Swim Into The Sound’s 2018 Un-Awards

00 - Unawards 2018 Resize.png

Let’s face it, lots of terrible stuff happened in 2018. While I could bust out a thousand words on the state of the world, politics, and my own mental health, none of that is why you’re here. No, Swim Into The Sound Un-Awards are designed for a very specific purpose: to highlight some of the year’s worst moments in music. The regrettable lyrics, the bad cover art, the poor decisions that need to be remembered if only so the feeling of shame may never be washed off these artists.

In all honesty, I don’t really like being negative. This blog is, has been, and always will be a place of positivity where I can recommend things wholeheartedly… but sometimes shit just sucks. 

If you’d like a refresher on how this works, feel free to revisit last year’s Un-Awards and give yourself a reminder of something from 2017 that you have tried to block out. Alternatively, if you’d like a more positive version of this list, I’d recommend reading our Diamond Platters which act as a companion piece more in-line with this blog’s usual sincerity and positivity. If nothing else, the Diamond Platters may offer a way to get the taste out of your mouth after reading this list. 

For those of you strong enough to continue, make sure your constitution is at peak performance because this list will test your mind, body, and soul. Be warned ye who enter here; this is the dregs of 2018. 

You Couldn’t Pay Me To Write A Worse Headline


Winner: Flaming Lips tell us about their plans to make vinyl out of Miley Cyrus' pee 

Look guys, I get what you’re doing, but this needs to stop somewhere. I respect The Flaming Lips for what they’ve contributed to the psychedelic genre, hell, I even respect Miley for what she’s done in pop… but this? This is too far. 

Runner-up: Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst Is Directing A Thriller Where John Travolta Plays An Insane Stalker

Literally every sentence in this headline is worse than the last. 


“You Played Yourself” Award for Biggest Dumbass of 2018


Winner: Nicki Minaj

2018 will forever be the year I lost respect for Nicki Minaj. Between lying in beefs with Cardi B, blaming Travis Scott for her poor album sales, and generally acting a fool on her radio show, she also managed to be a dick to her fans, elevate and legitimize a pedophile, remain openly-homophobic, and even ruin the life of one critic. No wonder why she can’t sell any concert tickets.

Runner-up: Tekashi 6ix9ine

Tekashi 6ix9ine is a pedophile. Let’s just get that out of the way up top. Much like xxxtentacion, this is a guy who never should have never gained a fanbase, legitimacy, or success in the first place. In fact, it’s amazing he’s made it this far without getting killed. This November the prayers of myself and every other sane hip-hop head were answered as Mr. SixNine was arrested on racketeering charges, landing him a minimum of 32-years in prison and a maximum of life. Do I think this will stop any of his more militant brain-dead fans from defending him? Not at all, but at least the guy is behind bars where he belongs. That’s what happens when you film your crimes for clout.


Words That Should Have Never Been Put To Music


Winner: Justin Timberlake - “Hers (Interlude)”

It’s pretty rare that I shudder at a song. While I slogged through Justin Timberlake’s latest mistake of an album for a quick review this February, there have been few moments more uncomfortable than my first listen of “Hers (Interlude).” With lyrics that read like the rambling diary of a serial killer, the song is comprised almost entirely of Jessica Biel monologing over an atmospheric piano-laden soundscape. As the one-minute song wears on, his wife explains how wearing JT’s flannel makes her feel powerful, almost as if she’s wearing his skin. Oof. 

Runner-up: Justin Timberlake - “Sauce”

Okay Justin, I’m sorry, but I had to do this. I know you’re experimenting with new sounds on this album... but I don’t care what genre you’re writing, nobody should ever pen the words “Ooh, I love your pink, you like my purple.” wowzers. 


Most Reality-Questioning Collab


Winner: Car Seat Headrest x Smash Mouth

2018 was a powerful year for collabs. From hip-hop to indie rock, it felt like every genre was blessed with an endless supply of albums that represented the meeting of musical minds… But most of those collabs made sense. Back in February indie darlings and known-meme lords Car Seat Headrest exchanged covers with Smash Mouth leading to one of the most perplexing and unlikely team-ups of all-time. 

Runner-up: William Shatner and Iggy Pop

If I told you that William Shatner and the Godfather of Punk crooned out a version of “Silent Night” earlier this year, would you believe me? Maybe it’s best that you just take my word for it. 


Worst Album Art


Winner: Neko Case - Hell-on

I know for a fact that Neko Case is a great artist with a strong voice and a defined artistic vision. This cover does not show that. 

Runner-up: E-40 - The Gift of Gab

Oh no E-40, baby, what is you doin?


Worst “Last Call” Ripoff


Winner: Bhad Bhabie - “Bhad Bhabie Story”

Like so many stars in 2018, Bhad Bhabie initially rose to prominence through a meme. At the end of her 38-minute debut, the queen of Reality Show Rap took a moment to reflect on how she got here. It’s like a white trash version of Kanye’s Last Call, but captured in a surprisingly lucid and earnest light, especially when you consider who we’re listening to.

Runner-up: Logic - “Last Call”

As Logic is wont to do, his version of “Last Call” is both a more technical and proficient version than Bhad Bhabie’s. However, he loses creative points for calling out the fact that he’s doing “his own” Last Call in the song itself. You want it too bad, Logic. 


I Know It’s Good, I Just Don’t Have The Patience For It


Winner: Daughters - You Won’t Get What You Want

Admittedly not an entirely negative category, I know there’s something exciting going on under the hood of Daughters’ fourth studio album… I just can’t bring myself to dig for it. I think I’ve started this record nearly a dozen times but then given up before it has time to do anything interesting. I guess this isn’t the introduction to “noise” that I need.

Runner-up: Anna von Hausswolff - Dead Magic

Another album I’ve heard nothing but great things about, Dead Magic is one of those records I keep scrolling by in my Spotify saved section and telling myself ‘someday.’ Opening your album with a 12-minute droney goth song is just a big ask up front. On top that, ”droney goth” is rarely a headspace I find myself wanting to linger in.


Am I The Only One Seeing This Shit?


Winner: Lil Pump’s Infatuation With His Grandmother

Last year it was 21 Savage’s obsession with food, this year it’s Lil Pump’s love for his grandmother. Penned early on in the year, Lil Pump Versus The Elderly was a then-comprehensive 3,000-word analysis of every time Lil Pump has referenced his grandmother and/or the grandmother of the listener. Quite frankly, it’s a shocking number of times for someone who (still) has such a small discography.

Runner-up: Offset’s Patek Collection

Did you guys know that Offset owns a Patek Phillipe? I know because I compiled all thirty references the Migos member has made to the watch across his storied career. I think it’s safe to say the man has purchased at least one of the high-end timepieces. 


Most Regrettable Guest Feature


Winner: Lil Durk on “Off White VLONE”

Hey, Lil Durk? Of all the things to rap about (see above entry) why on earth would you choose to write about sexual assault? On the intro track to Lil Baby & Gunna’s otherwise enjoyable collaborative tape Chicago-based rapper Lil Durk decided to end his verse with the lyrics “Gotta suck dick on your period / You can't say, ‘No,’ I ain't hearin' it.” At least Lil Baby offers a somewhat redeeming ray of hope later on with a progressive line about consent on “Never Recover.”

Runner-up: Rick Ross on “What’s Free”

Rapping the f-word? In 2018? Please refer to this tweet.


American Fuss Award For Most Imbalanced Album 


Winner: Foxing - Nearer My God

This award, named after a clumsy portmanteau of Bleed American and Hot Fuss, goes to an album that’s half great, half not so much. I’m having a hard time trying to think of an album I wanted to like more this year than Nearer My God. All the singles were great, it was receiving incredible hype, but when I sat down to listen to it, I got mind-numbingly bored. It’s just emo, nothing more than nothing less. It’s even more frustrating because half of this album is absolutely brilliant, but the other half is comprised of some of the most depressingly gray, bland, and boring indie rock I’ve heard in a calendar year. I’m sorry. 

Runner-up: Travis Scott - Astroworld

I love Tarvis Scott. He has some of the best songs in hip-hop right now, but holy god is Astroworld hit-or-miss. The album starts off strong with beat-switch bangers and a stacked guest list, but somewhere in the middle, it feels like he forgot to think of new things to say. I’ve spent thousands of words talking about how I want Trav to be better, but I guess I’ll consider Astroworld a half-step in the right direction for now.


Inevitably Going To Be The Slept-on Because It Released At The End Of The Year


Winner: Parcels - Parcels

Finally, to end on a (somewhat) positive note, I’d like to focus on two albums that were fantastic but will go largely unnoticed due to no fault of their own. Berlin-based funk group Parcels released their self-titled album this October, and it took me by complete surprise. Like a more laid-back version of Vulfpeck, the songs grove forward endlessly in the most compelling way, it’s just a shame it released by the time most major publications already had their end of the year lists ironed out.

Runner-up: Grapetooth - Grapetooth

One of Polyvinyl’s newest signees, Grapetooth is comprised of Clay Frankel and Chris Bailoni, a duo who are crafting sharp and compelling synth-based new wave. Even a cursory listen to the opening track off their debut album will offer a glimpse at the sort of shimmering Future Islands-esque tunes they’re capable of crafting, but an unknown band and a November release date are hardly a recipe for media coverage.

The Second Annual Diamond Platters: Swim Into The Sound’s Ancillary End of the Year Awards

00 - Platters2018rezise.png

Most end of the year lists suck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in the process of putting together our own “best of” as you read this, but each December we see the exact same thing: dozens of publications all rushing to push out ten pages of clickbait listicles intentionally-ordered to cater debate (and clicks) while simultaneously falling in-line with the broadest most commonly-held opinion. There’s nothing technically wrong with “List Season,” but most of it just comes off as going through the motions, and I believe there’s a better way to reflect what happened over the previous year. That’s why I created The Diamond Platters

As you can tell by their name, The Diamond Platters are the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an artist. They are an extravagant and one-of-a-kind accolade representative of artistic achievement and abject opulence… Just kidding, this isn’t anything that grandiose. 

While the name is poking fun at the seriousness of List Season, The Diamond Platters do serve a purpose: they’re a way to circumvent publishing “just another” end of the year list. This is a look at the past 365 days in music through a unique (and sometimes hyper-specific) lens. These awards allow me to draw attention to releases that may not get discussed on a typical publication’s end of the year list. Most importantly, it’s a way to celebrate the year in music without pitting artists against each other. Unique categories for the unique music listener, because not everything fits into a list of 50. 

Best Cover Song


Winner: The Regrettes - “Helpless”

2018 was a great year to be a fan of Hamilton. Not only did the show finally come to my city, but we also got a new one-off single, and to top it all off The Regrettes released their incredible cover of “Helpless.” Like a pop-punk counterpart to The Hamilton Mixtape, The Regrettes took an already goosebump-inducing song and transformed it into an empowering power-chord shred-fest that somehow works just as well as the original. 

Runner-up: Phoebe Bridgers - “It’ll All Work Out”

Last year Tom Petty passed on October 2nd. Less than two weeks after his death I caught Phoebe Bridgers live and witnessed as she closed out her set with a heart-rending cover of “It’ll All Work Out.” It nearly broke me. One year later on October 2nd Bridgers re-opened that emotional wound when she released a deluxe edition of her debut album featuring a full-studio rendition of the same cover.  


Remake/Rework of the Year


Winner: Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Remastering an album is one thing. Re-recording an album, amending it, and adding onto it is a different thing entirely. Indie darlings Car Seat Headrest did just that when they revisited their 2011 Bandcamp breakthrough earlier this year. Originally recorded entirely by Will Toledo in Garageband, the 2018 version of Twin Fantasy finds the songs backed by a full band, improved production, and an actual budget. The remake remains faithful its predecessor while simultaneously making just enough new additions to make it feel relevant and fresh, all while retaining the same core message that made the album resonate so deeply seven years ago.

Runner-up:  TTNG - Animals Acoustic

Possibly one of the most seminal albums of the entire math rock genre, TTNG’s debut full-length has built quite a reputation for itself over the past ten years. When the band revisited their zoological release in a fully-realized acoustic style this fall, they did so in the most careful, reverent, and precious way possible. 


Mini Wheats™Award For Hardest Shit I Experienced All Year


Winner: Denzel Curry - “Sumo”

Cursed with the mixed-blessing of a meme-adjacent hit, “Ultimate” became the standard Denzel Curry was held to for better or worse. While Imperial, 13, and TA13OO prove his artistic talent undeniably, “Sumo” is the sequel to “Ultimate” we’ve all been waiting for. Featuring yelled vocals, blown-out instrumentation, and hard-as-bricks lyrics, “Sumo” will be a staple of the gym playlist for many years to come. 

Runner-up: Carnage x Lil Pump - “i Shyne”

Bolstered DJ Carnage’s destructive production, “i Shyne” finds Pump at his most ignorant, shouting boasts over an out-of-control hype-up beat for two and a half minutes. 


Stone-Cold Chiller


Winner: Dylan Mattheisen of Tiny Moving Parts

Every once in a while you have someone that just makes your day on social media. Maybe it’s a friend, perhaps it’s a crush, but sometimes it’s a band. When he isn’t singing, shredding, or tapping on his guitar, the frontman of Tiny Moving Parts can be seen smiling across the world and enjoying life on social media. Aside from putting out a new record in 2018, this was also a year of personal progress for Dylan as he shared his weight loss journey with fans in between beaming selfies and adorable musings. Always happy to meet fans at the merch booth after shows, Dylan is a stand-up guy and the definition of a stone-cold chiller.

Runner-up: Caroline Rose of Caroline Rose 

Caroline Rose is a special crystal angel full of rainbows and dreams. Whether she’s releasing one of the best sophomore records of 2018, charming viewers with her music videos, or uploading goofy goings-on in her downtime on tour, Caroline’s red-hued antics are a constant social media delight.


Holdin’ It Down: Award for Most-needed Genre Makeover


Winner: Bloodbather & Jesus Piece - Metalcore

While there were undoubtedly some early indicators like Knocked Loose, Code Orange, and END, the metalcore revival has never felt more real than it did in 2018. Between Jesus Piece’s Only Self and Bloodbather’s Pressure, it’s safe to say that the genre is back in safe hands and experiencing and refreshing second wind. May it never truly die. 

Runner-up: Shame & Heavy Lungs - Post-punk

Forecasted by the arrival of IDLES’ Brutalism last year, genuine, angry, gray, UK-based Post-punk is back in full-force in 2018. Back in January, England-based Shame kicked off the year with a world-rocking debut album, and more recently the IDLES-adjacent Heavy Lungs released a banger of a single following an angry little EP of political tunes. 


“Continental Breakfast” Award For Most Inoffensive Sunday Morning Easy Listen


Winner: Hovvdy - Cranberry

Named after 2017’s collaboration between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, sometimes you just need slow-moving hangover music. While Cranberry is definitively much more than that, their music certainly is easy on the ears.

Runner-up: Yo La Tengo - There’s a Riot Going On

Yo La Tengo’s fifteenth album is a half-ambient relaxing descent into utter bliss. More like a float tank than a collection of songs, There’s a Riot Going On is a wonderful record to throw on in the early hours of a crisp Sunday morning as you contemplate whether or not you want to make eggs. 


Most Important Song Of The Year


Winner: Stella Donnelly - “Boys Will Be Boys”

Boys Will Be Boys” is a song about the aftermath of sexual abuse. Specifically, it finds Donnelly talking to one of her close friends who, after confessing what had happened to her, explains why she’s to blame for her own rape. It’s an exorcism of pain — a condemning piece of art that’s more powerful than anything I’ve taken in this year, music or otherwise. 

Runner-up: Field Medic - “Let Freedom Ring 2”

If you were to ask Field Medic why he recorded a sequel to “Let Freedom Ring” he may tell you he had to. He may tell you it was an exercise. He may tell you it was a way to air his grievances and get his thoughts out into the world. Whatever the case, “Let Freedom Ring 2” is a raw, honest, and transparent assessment of where America is in 2018. It’s a middle-finger-adorned callout as much as it is a plea for sensibility… and we’re at the point where even that would go a long way. 


Most Fabulous Christmas Bop


Winner: Sufjan Stevens - “Lonely Man of Winter”

Having launched, organized, and ran a Sufjan Christmas blog this December, the back half of my year has been absolutely dominated by Sufjan’s Christmas music. While I gave his 100 Christmas tracks dozens of spins as I usually do, this season felt extra special when fans received a long-obscured loosie from the days of Christmases past. Crisp, cold, and frigid, “Lonely Man of Winter” is a realist Christmas song about feeling a distinct lack of jolliness during a season where that seems to be a requirement. 

Runner-up: August Burns Red - “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

August Burns Red may have released a highly-influential metalcore album early in their career, but their vast body of Christmas work has always been a personal favorite of mine. Needless to say, when we got a six-song EP of holiday tunes earlier this season, it practically made my year. Hearing lead guitarist JB Brubaker shred out the melody to “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” was exactly what I needed to ignite my Christmas spirit. 


Best Cover Art


Winner: SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides

Shiny, soft, synthetic, glossy, reflective, and smooth are just a handful of the adjectives that come to mind when one finds themselves face to face with the cover to SOPHIE’s debut record. Turns out these words also accurately describe the futuristic dance music contained just behind this cover, all while taking the viewer by surprise and making them want to know more. In other words, it does everything an album cover is designed to do.

Runner-up: Nas - Nasir

An image of five black children lined up against a wall with their hands up in the air says more than I ever could, and almost says more than Nasir does in its 26-minute running time. 


Best Gibberish


Winner: Kanye West - “Lift Yourself”

In the confusing lead-up to Kanye West’s eighth album, anything could have happened. While the aftermath left me and many other fans deeply-conflicted, pretty much every Kanye fan could agree on one thing: “Lift Yourself” was a masterstroke. Clocking in at two and a half minutes, the song was uploaded to Kanye’s site late on a late May evening. Like most fans, I clicked play, vibed out to the classic Kanye soul chop, and then proceeded to bust out laughing when he starts aggressively scatting. I can’t think of any other moment this year that evoked such a strong reaction from me, and for that, I must commend Mr. West. 

Runner-up: Future - “King’s Dead”

Picture this: you’re listening to the newest Jay Rock song. It features Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake. You’re taken aback by the song’s rapid-fire bars and powerful beat. Then halfway through, the instrumental pauses and Future busts out a raspy ode to Slick Rick and Juicy J’s with the line “La di da di da / slob on me knob.” You are shocked. You try to brush it off, but you keep coming back to it. What was once an off-putting and perplexing yelp soon becomes something so stupid it’s catchy. You can’t help but love it. That’s how I feel about “King’s Dead.”


Live Album of the Year


Winner: The National - Boxer Live in Brussels

Often cited as one of their best records, The National’s performance of their 2007 record is everything a live album should be. Bearing faithful renditions of their wine-drunk songs, the band also manages to inject some moments of surprise into this recording. Whether it’s a vibrant horn break on “Slow Show” or a series of distressed guitar solos leading up to a frantic yelp of a chorus on “Squalor Victoria,” the band was able to breathe new life into these classic indie songs. Plus, with engaging crowd responses throughout, and just the right amount of banter, Boxer Live in Brussels is proof that, much like a fine wine, The National are only getting better with age.

Runner-up: Mac Miller - Tiny Desk Concert

While it’s only three songs long, Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk Concert remains one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen all year. Released just one month before his passing, this video became one of Miller’s final moments in the public eye. Fortunately crystalized on film for the rest of time, the video is a 17-minute encapsulation of the type of soul, charm, and artistry he was possible of. 


Porch Beer Album of the Year


Winner: Bonny Doon - Longwave

Sometimes you hear an album that jangles just in the right way. That kicks up just enough dust and casts just enough of an amber-coated summer breeze. A record where the drums are light, the vocals are relaxing, and the bass is played just in the pocket. The kind of music that you can close your eyes, sip your beer, nod along, and enjoy the absence of worry. That’s Longwave.

Runner-up: Nap Eyes - I’m Bad Now

Practically punk compared to Bonny Doon, Nap Eyes’ third record I’m Bad Now is a lovely and light-colored Lou Reed-esque jaunt that’s as pleasing and flavorful as it is relaxing. 


One for the Streets


Winner: Young Dolph - Role Model

At the end of the day sometimes you just need to turn your brain off. There’s no need high-minded metaphors or far-reaching artistic goals, and luckily Young Dolph is striving for neither of those on Role Model. Featuring some of the most audacious, enigmatic, and hilarious bars I’ve heard all year, Dolph’s fifth studio album is 44-minutes of braggadocio, all delivered at a shockingly-consistent quality. Everything’s a banger, and we’re all better off for it. 

Runner-up: Sheck Wes - MUDBOY

Outside of Playboi Carti, it’s hard to think of a single artist who pervaded the hyped-up online sphere more than Sheck Wes. While his popularity had been brewing up for some time now, a Travis Scott co-sign, Drake name-drop, and perfectly-timed album release all converged into the perfect storm of hype and success. 


Best Album From Last Year That Took Until 2018 To Discover


Winner: Field Medic - Songs From the Sunroom

Earlier this year I discovered Field Medic through a stroke of Spotify luck and almost immediately turned around a short review gushing about his poetic folk music. The album has been a constant companion of mine throughout the year, and my discovery felt affirmed when I saved Field’s hat during a Remo Drive mosh pit over the summer. Clever, romantic, and emotionally-raw, Songs From The Sunroom is a lovely and personable release that’s as charming as it is inventive.

Round-up: Surf Curse - Nothing Yet

The modern surf rock scene walks an intoxicating mix of fast-paced aggression and laid-back good nature. While it may sound contradictory, this balancing act is a feat clearly mastered by Surf Curse on their sophomore album which also happened to be the soundtrack to my summer this year. 


Best Music Video


Winner: Childish Gambino - “This Is America”

This is America, and it’s terrible. After producing a transformative funk album in 2016, Donald Glover returned to rap with one of this year’s most impactful singles. “This Is America” has a lot on its mind: gun violence, police abuse, and institutionalized racism are all tackled in the space of four minutes. Not only does Glover eloquently address all those topics, he also managed to deliver this message over a beat that bangs so hard the song’s both catchy and accessible. The music video itself is a striking, twisted, and hypnotic bit of long-shot cinematography that half a billion viewers found impossible to look away from… much like America. 

Runner-up: Charli XCX - “1999”

We have to go back. Not to do anything different, but just to enjoy it all again. On this nostalgic bop, the underground pop queen teams up with Troye Sivan to recreate some of the 90’s most iconic moments. From Matrix dodges to Skechers advertisements, the mix of wistfulness, commitment, and innovation is simply too impressive to ignore. 


“It Me” Award For Verbose And Awkward Lyrics That Most Closely Mirror My Internal Monologue


Winner: Retirement Party - Somewhat Literate

There’s something to be said for representation in music — representation not just in race, gender, religion, or culture, but in thought and personality. Even upon my first listen, I could tell that Somewhat Literate was the most I’d identified with a lyricist in some time. Opening and closing with the airing of her own hypochondriac-fuelled grievances, lead singer Avery Springer spends the rest of the record weaving nervous stream-of-conscious tales fraught with overthinking, awkwardness, and self-deprecation. In short, it feels like someone took my brain and transposed it onto jittery garage-filtered pop-punk.

Runner-up: Illuminati Hotties - Kiss Your Frenemies

Much like Retirement Party, Illuminati Hotties’ debut album represents a similar verbose and overwrought self-criticism. With songs about doughnut dates and searching for a fourth job to pay off her college debt, Sarah Tundzen was able to capture the average Millenial’s quarter-life-crisis with depressing accuracy. 


Freestyle Maestro


Winner: Tyler, The Creator - Various Loosies

If nothing else, Tyler wins this one for the sheer amount of freestyles he gifted fans this year. Most of them under two minutes long, the ex-figurehead of Odd Future released somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen freestyles this calendar year alone. While not all of them wound up on the major streaming sites, tracks like “Okra” and “435” alone should prove Tyler’s proficiency as a freestyle titan.

Runner-up: Saba - “Nice For What Freestyle”

While I found myself extremely disappointed with Drake’s Scorpion, I was glad that someone took the time to salvage the album’s best beat and transform it into something with a little more substance.


Biggest Glo-Up


Winner: Tay Keith

I’m not going to pretend I was up on Tay Keith before “Look Alive,” but unless you’re big into Southern hip-hop, it’s likely that 2018 was the first time you heard his iconic producer tag. While some deride Tay Keith for making the same type of beat over and over again, he’s seemingly produced hundreds of songs this year alone, and there’s something to be said for respecting the hustle.

Runner-up: Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves has been making country music for over a decade at the time of writing, so it’s hard to call her an undiscovered force in the country scene, but Golden Hour sparked conversations across the music sphere when it became a certified crossover success. Balancing at the perfect intersection of country, pop, and indie, Musgraves proved that you don’t have to relegate yourself to one lane. 


Song of the Year


Winner: Saba - “PROM / KING”

PROM / KING” is a seven-and-a-half-minute two-part hip-hop epic that packs as much personality, story-telling, and raw honesty as the entirety of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The first half of the song finds a sixteen-year-old Saba reconnecting with his estranged cousin Walter back in high school. Saba recounts his traumatic prom night experience over a woozy Chicago jazz beat for three minutes until exactly halfway through the song when everything stops. There’s a brief moment of silence, and then the song explodes into a new pattern now propelled by a bombastic drum beat. From there, time flashes forward to 2017 as Saba paints a picture of his first successes as a musician and his growing bond with Walt. As the instrumental grows faster Saba’s flow increases and you get the feeling of an inescapable danger. Eventually the story unfolds, Walt is involved in a fatal stabbing, and Chicago claims another life. As the beat gets faster, so do Saba’s bars. He eventually raps until he’s out of breath, seemingly collapsing from exhaustion, but then making way for a posthumous outro sung by Walter himself. It’s harrowing, beautiful, and painful all at once. In a year where hip-hop was largely dominated by lyrics about money, women, and opulent flexes, it’s refreshing to hear a song with a message and a story. “PROM/KING” is an artistic achievement. A feat. A warning. A memorial.  

Runner-up: Mac Miller - “2009”

For one month “2009” was a poignant reflection on nostalgia, addiction, and innocence lost. Then Mac Miller died, and all of those feelings became amplified ten-fold. With his passing, an already-great track became the penultimate swan song of an artist we lost just as he was reaching his prime. It makes you equal parts heartbroken and thankful to have shared the world with such an incredible artist.  


Most Anticipated Project of 2019


Winner: Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen’s 2016 record My Woman opened up my world musically and philosophically. While last year’s b-sides collection temporarily satiated my hunger for more Olsen, I absolutely cannot wait to see what she’s been cooking up for us over the last two years.

Runner-up: PUP

The Dream Is Over was one of those rare records that was so good it crossed musical boundaries. From indieheads to emo boys to hardcore punks, there seemed to be nothing but praise for the Canadian group’s sophomore effort. With tracking finished back in May, we should be on the receiving end of some heart-rending thrashy punk rock any day now.

November 2018: Album Review Roundup


As I settle in for my first-ever winter here in the midwest, I’ve found myself thankful for ice scrapers, Dr. Martens, and lots of good music. It may already be colder outside than I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, but at least November gave us got lots of great new music to keep warm. Here are some of the month’s best albums.

Metro Boomin’ - Not All Heroes Wear Capes


After taking a short hiatus earlier this year, the biggest producer in the rap game has returned to his rightful space at the top of the modern music landscape. With 21 Savage and Travis Scott features aplenty, Not All Heroes Wear Capes is a producer-led playlist the like of which we rarely see anymore. From Crooning Swae Lee tracks to worldly dance songs, even a fast-paced Drake feature, everything about the album seems scientifically-designed to succeed. Indicative of the goodwill he’s built up in the industry, the record earned Metro a well-deserved #1 spot on the Billboard chart, perhaps signaling a new era for the unspoken heroes of the rap game: producers.

boygenius - boygenius


In 2015 Julien Baker released Sprained Ankle and it destroyed me. In 2016 Lucy Dacus released No Burden and it moved me. In 2017 Phoebe Bridgers released Stranger in the Alps and it robbed me of happiness for a full calendar year. Now in 2018 the three musicians team up to take down my emotional state once and for all with boygenius, a 6-song EP of smoldering emotional destruction. With voices that intertwine, unfurl, and cast a spell on the listener, boygenius is a siren song of sadness and emotions all entangling like a string of Christmas lights.

Sufjan Stevens - Lonely Man of Winter


I love Christmas. I love Sufjan. I love Sufjan’s Christmas work. Originally recorded in 2007, “Lonely Man of Winter” has existed for over one decade as a single vinyl record belonging to Alec Duffy who originally won the track in a Christmas Song Exchange with Sufjan himself. Since 2007 Duffy held yearly listening parties of the song for friends and family (complete with hot cocoa), but now the track has been released to the world in both its original form and as a 2018 Doveman remix featuring Melissa Mary Ahern. Adding onto Sufjan’s already-massive 100-song Holiday Canon, “Lonely Man of Winter” is a lush, crisp, and bitter look at the holiday season. The single also includes “Every Day Is Christmas,” the track that won Duffey the honor of guarding this Sufjan rarity. Overall, Lonely Man of Winter is a welcome throwback to the heyday of Sufjan’s Holiday powers and a song that makes me feel like the entire world has received an early Christmas treat.

August Burns Red - Winter Wilderness EP


Aside from Sufjan Stevens, August Burns Red is my next favorite creator of Christmas music. While the group initially dipped their toe into the genre with a headbanging rendition of “Carol of the Bells” back in 2008, the metalcore act eventually unveiled their full Christmas spirit in 2012 with their full-length holiday album Sleddin’ Hill. Releasing one additional Christmas single every season from that year forward, the group has now returned with Winter Wilderness, a six-track EP of holiday offerings. From spicy originals like “Avalanche” to traditional classics like “What Child is This?” and even some out-of-the-box deep-pulls like the Home Alone Theme, this EP has a little something for every type of Christmas fan.

Vince Staples - FM!


Vince Staples feels like rap’s odd man out. His debut double-album Summertime ‘06 made waves in insular music communities, Prima Donna attempted to cultivate his fanbase, and Big Fish Theory pushed the boundaries of the current hip-hop sound. He’s tried everything he can, and never really broken through to a mainstream level of acceptance… not that the man himself is too concerned with that. On FM! Vince takes listeners through hectic two-minute chunks of a would-be terrestrial hip-hop station. Featuring interviews, sneak peeks, and surprisingly-accessible bangers, FM! feels like the synthesis of his high-concept aspirations with the kind of radio-ready hits he often finds himself circling around. Only time will tell how deeply this resonates with his current fanbase, let alone connects to the audience just outside of it.

Liance - The Rat House


When he’s not penning ambient music as Ministry of Interior Spaces, James Li creates heart-rending indie songs under the moniker Liance. Inspired by true events, The Rat House acts as a companion piece to Bronze Age of the Nineties, both of which recount the events of his college years spent in Michigan. Featuring densely-packed multi-part folk epics, bite-size personal tales, and Sufjan-esque instrumentation, The Rat House is a more than worthy successor to his full-length. And clocking in at just 14 minutes, it’s a wonder he was able to pack such deeply-emotional and universally-human feelings into such a small amount of time.

Read our full review of The Rat House here.

Takeoff - The Last Rocket


Takeoff has always been my favorite Migo. While I definitely understand the poppy appeal of Quavo and the hard-edged bars of Offset, Takeoff’s untouchable flow is often my favorite component of any Migos song. While he’s often unfairly named last as anyone’s favorite Migo, The Last Rocket is irrefutable proof that he can stand on his own as an artist, creator, and voice to rise above the crowd. The second solo Migos release of the year following QUAVO HUNCHO, Takeoff’s turn at the wheel sees him crafting everything from grimy gangster tracks to raspy confessionals, all with expected proficiency and accessibility.

Fleet Foxes -First Collection 2006-2009


Way back in 2006 a group named Fleet Foxes emerged from a rainy corner of Seattle, signed to Sub Pop Records, and released one of the most important folk records of the decade. Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut, alongside albums like For Emma, Forever Ago, acted as an entry point to the indie music genre for hordes of directionless teenagers (myself included). Now one decade down the line from that album’s release, the band have returned with a wistful and comprehensive four-disc compilation of demos, outtakes, and b-sides. It’s interesting to listen to First Collection and wonder what songs might have become iconic classics had they released back in ‘08, but for now, all we can do is listen, reflect, and appreciate the hearty wilderness of Fleet Foxes’ early years.

Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs


Spring of 2015 was a weird time for me. A major transition in my life combined with the changing of the seasons compounded into a mixture of anxiety and claustrophobia that felt like an uphill battle to overcome. Extensive listening to Earl Sweatshirt’s second album I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside definitely didn’t help alleviate that feeling. Now, nearly four years after his sophomore record, I’m in a much better spot, and the public has finally got its hands on Earl’s long-awaited follow-up. The unceremoniously-named, Some Rap Songs is a dissonant, blippy, and insular hip-hop album that’s as enigmatic as it is reclusive. With most of the songs hovering around one-minute-long, the tracks clip forward with muffled Madlib-esque beats and effortless flows. A dense, personal, and abrupt album that forces you to lean in, listen, and absorb it fully.

Quick Hits

  • Action Bronson - White Bronco: Embracing his go-to husky flow, Bronson makes a brief outing to discuss food, women, drugs, and fashion in this mixtape released the second the clock struck midnight on Halloween.  

  • Sun Kil Moon - This Is My Dinner: It’s basically a sad podcast.

  • Sia - Everyday is Christmas (Deluxe): The Australian pop star revisits her fabulous Christmas bops of yesteryear, adding on a trio of cheerful oddities.

  • Rostam - In A River: Technically just one song recorded in three different styles, Rostam’s newest single still feels rich enough to gorge out on in the most decadent and delicate way possible.

  • Ellis - The Fuzz: Dreamy and lonely indie rock songs beamed across a pastel canvas that’s burning slowly.

  • Nap Eyes - Too Bad: A two-song sample platter of the group’s lovely and laid-back indie rock tunes that drip with Lou Reed-inflection.

  • Smino - NOIR: Fast-paced and hyper-lyrical jazzy raps straight from the soul.

  • Hopeless Records - Songs That Saved My Life: From Dance Gavin Dance to Wonder Years Frontman Daniel Campbell, this comp organized by Hopeless Records is packed with mutual appreciation and admiration sure to warm your inner pop-punk kid’s heart.

  • Grapetooth - Grapetooth: A wildcard new signee in the Polyvinyl lineup, Grapetooth’s self-titled debut exceeds expectations as a groovy, synthy record that mixes throwback instrumentation with distinctly modern lyrics and deliveries.

  • It Looks Sad. - Sky Lake: Dreamy, swirling, atmospheric indie rock with an electronic infusion.

  • Architects - Holy Hell: Anthemic metalcore recorded in the wake of guitarist and founding member Tom Searle’s death.

  • Lil Peep - Come Over When You're Sober Pt. 2: Elaborating on the intoxicating mix of emo and trap we witnessed on the preceding album, this sequel is a swan song to Lil Peep’s life, and proof that one’s impact can last beyond death.

  • Macseal - Map It Out: Jangly heart-on-sleeve pop-punk that’s as pleasant as it is earnest.

  • CupcakKe - Eden: Horny, Hungry, and Hilarious, Mrs. CupcakKe is the exact type of emcee we need in 2018.

  • IDK - IDK & FRIENDS :): A start-studded producer-led EP of bangers.

  • Anderson .Paak - Oxnard: Funky hip-pop with stellar Dre production and passionate vocals.

  • Tyler, The Creator - Music Inspired By Illumination & Dr. Seuss' The Grinch: Following his iconic contribution to this year’s Grinch reboot, Tyler doubles-down with an EP full of Grinch-themed hip-hop cuts.

  • Smashing Pumpkins - Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.: While this may be one of the best records the group has put out recently, Billy Corgan is still a bad person, and that makes me want to dislike this album.

  • Mike Will Made-It - Creed II: The Album: The mastermind behind some of hip-hop’s biggest hits tries his hand at his own Kendrick Lamar-esque curated soundtrack for this year’s biggest sports drama.

  • Jaden Smith - The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story: While he’s a meme to some, Jaden Smith is actually surprisingly personable and proficient when he focuses on rapping.

  • Memphis May Fire - Broken: Synthetic and sterilized metalcore that’s stretching desperately for maturity and emotional resonance.

  • Tenacious D - Post-Apocalypto: The gut-busting and earnest soundtrack to Tenacious D’s post-apocalyptic animated series of the same name.

  • Like Moths To Flames - Dark Divine Reimagined: Three songs from the band’s 2017 record revisited in a heartfelt acoustic style.

  • Something Merry - EMO-TION: A wide range of indie/emo/pop-punk darlings sharing their takes of Carly Rae Jepsen’s monumental E•MO•TION, all for a good cause.

  • Oneohtrix Point Never - Love in the Time of Lexapro: Songs for drugged-out space cowboys.

  • Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Clams Casino, and Fish Narc - Spider Web: Five goth rap tracks from an ex-pop-punk icon.

  • J.I.D - DiCaprio 2: Impactful and compact bars from the most outstanding member of this year’s XXL Freshman Class.

  • The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships: This is probably what they were listening to in “San Junipero.”

  • Mac Miller - Spotify Singles: Two posthumously-released cuts that showcase Miller’s unique voice and sense of style.

  • Lil Baby - Street Gossip: His third release of the year, Lil Baby keeps his hot streak alive with another helping of catchy, personable, and flex-worthy trap.

  • Meek Mill - Championships: Mother. Fucking. Heat.

  • Ski Mask the Slump God - Stokeley: Hip-hop that jumps between vocal-chord-destroying shouts and hyper-dense rapid-fire bars.

  • Jeff Tweedy - WARM: A soundtrack from the Wilco frontman that goes hand-in-hand with his memoir from earlier this month.

  • Thomas Erak - The Whole Story: The Fall of Troy guitarist spreads his wings in a snarling and technical 22-minute crowdfunded solo EP.

  • Peewee Longway - State of the Art: A trapped-out hip-hop release for the streets.

  • The Alchemist - Bread: Four star-studded slow-moving rap tracks alongside their instrumental counterparts.

  • David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000: Two hours of David Bowie live goodness.

  • Oliver Houston - Mixed Reviews: The final release from the Grand Rapids emo rockers.

  • The Mountain Goats - Aquarium Drunkard's Lagniappe Session: A mini-offering of Bon Iver, Robin Trower, and Godspell covers.

  • Wavves - Emo Christmas: Two surfy Christmas cuts from the recovering party animals.

This month we also heard new singles from Saba, Desiigner, Juice WRLD, Ice Cube, Shame, JPEGMAFIA, Emarosa, Hozier, 2 Chainz, Kodak Black, Saba, Girlpool, The Regrettes, Weezer, Preoccupations, Amine, Manchester Orchestra, Slaves, A$AP Rocky, Vulfpeck, Mono, Iceage, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Sharon Van Etten, Jeff Tweedy, Travis Scott, Kim Petras, Grimes, Phoebe Bridgers, Kaytranada, American Pleasure Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Conor Oberst, Big K.R.I.T., The Beths, Offset, Cold War Kids, Say Anything, Jay Rock, AFI, Blood Orange, Arctic Monkeys, Men I Trust, Deaf Dog, Chance The Rapper (Times Two), and Saba.

Liance - The Rat House


The most formative years of your life seem to happen when you least expect them. Despite the narrative spun by popular culture, the most important events in your life are not always confined to childhood, or your first relationship, or any other “expected” demarcation point. You don’t get to plan the twists in your life, the only thing you can control is how you react to them. 

No matter what form these events take in your own life, we often don’t recognize them for what they are until they’re over. They become symbolic in our own narrative. One monument within an ever-changing mythology that we venture back to, draw from, and reflect upon for decades to come. On his newest EP as Liance, Brighton-based musician James Li has crystalized this time in his life and put it on display for the entire world to see. 

In contrast to his ambient project Ministry of Interior Spaces, Liance exists as a more autobiographical musical entity, weaving personal tales of grief, love, and loss all of which pull inspiration from his own life. Recorded between 2014 and 2018, The Rat House acts as a companion piece to Bronze Age of the Nineties, both of which recount Li’s time during college in Michigan and the hyper-formative events surrounding him at that time. 

We should all be so lucky to have the feeling of our college experience remembered in such a beautiful and undegredated form. From the people you meet to the specific details of one night’s drunken adventures, college contains some of the most important memories of your life, and often they only live inside your head. As the years tick by those memories get fainter and fainter, so it’s best to document them now before the whos and the whys become unclear

Seaweed obscured 1.jpg

In The Rat House’s 1-minute opening track “Bernie Rally,” Li recalls a chance encounter with someone at a Bernie Sanders rally. While the details date the song to a specific time and place, the feeling he manages to capture is a universal truth. A single spark that comes from a seemingly-divine meeting, an evening spent together, and then nothing. It’s a compact tale that opens the album on a bittersweet but lovingly-emotional note. 

Title track “The Rat House” acts as the album’s lush centerpiece, a multi-layered work pulling a wide range of instruments and wrapping them up into a single reflective package. Beginning with an uneasy guitar, the song grows over time and introduces a slowly-mounting drumline alongside gorgeous brass accompaniment all while retaining the same core melody and mood. It’s a single-song journey that aches with passionate beauty before exploding into sound, light, color, and life. 

Songs like “Milk” and “Julian” serve to further the plot of Li’s life through vignettes of abstracted beauty. Whether accompanied by banjo, dulcimer, or piano, each track adds on to the mythology of his own created life, sketching a portrait for the audience to absorb and internalize. 

The language Li uses throughout the release is both careful and loving. Lyrics like “I like the pictures that you take / I want to live in pictures you take” illustrate a distant form of appreciation that’s tapered off into something else entirely. Similarly, lines like “This house is stained with me and you” stand on their own and prod the listener into thinking deeply about the story being weaved while simultaneously projecting their own experience onto it. 

The Rat House is a beautiful release, and clocking in at only 14 minutes, it’s a marvel that Li was able to pack such a lovely amount of well-lived feeling into such a short space. It’s a heart-rending exposition of the self, and one that can only exist through music. It’s self-documentation of the highest degree. 

Sometimes remembering our own past is the only way to move forward, and The Rat House is a wonderful way to capture the multi-layered flash of one’s college years. While the album only documents Li’s specific experiences, its themes, tales, and feelings are unshakably universal. There’s likely to be at least a few moments in the EP’s 14 minutes that will send a rush of blood to long-forgotten memory in a distant corner of your brain. 

The Rat House is a beautifully-crafted release that impresses its feelings upon you and leaves you better for it. Years compressed into minutes. A lifetime of feelings that you didn’t even know you shared with the rest of the world. 

It’s rare to find a piece of art that feels so personal and relevant to your own life while also managing to tell the creator’s story effectively. Throughout this EP we see an artist who is tapped into something bigger, a universal struggle not just for happiness, but for life. The Rat House is the sound of hundreds of memories being unearthed, and it’s here to take you on that journey whenever you're ready.

Say Yes To Michigan: A Physical Exploration of Sufjan Stevens' Third Album


One year ago I published my write-up on Sufjan Steven’s Michigan, and in the three years I’ve spent running this blog it’s still the thing I’m most proud of. It took many hours, revisions, and relistens to hone that post to a point where the words accurately captured my affection for the record, and even then my relationship with the album has evolved in the past 12 months.

This fall I accepted a job in Detroit and moved out to the Great Lake State from my hometown of Portland, Oregon. While there are plenty of reasons why taking that job was an objectively-good career move, I’d be lying if I said my love for this record didn’t influence my decision in some way. 

So back in September I packed my belongings into my car and spent five days driving across the country to a state I’d never been to, where I knew nobody, and knew almost nothing about.

On my way across the state line, I stopped at the welcome center, took photos, and (of course) queued up Sufjan’s Michigan on my phone. I also made sure to keep my physical copy of the record handy for any photo opportunities that may present themselves, and I quickly realized that there would be many. 

Using a state map from the visitor center, I sat down with Genius, Google Maps, and my copy of the record to plot out how many different locations Sufjan names throughout the course of the record’s 66-minute running time. Turns out it’s a lot.

 What the process looked liked.

What the process looked liked.

While it’s far from comprehensive, I’ve gone out of my way to visit the sights, sounds, and feelings captured on Sufjan’s third record. I’m not going to pretend this is anything more than a glorified iPhone-quality photo gallery, but I view it as an amendment to last year’s Michigan write-up. It’s a physical manifestation of my love for the record and how much it has impacted my life both spiritually and literally. 

This post is a documentation of my life and how Michigan continues to intertwine with it every step of the way. 

Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)

 City of Flint Water Plant

City of Flint Water Plant

 City of Flint Water Plant

City of Flint Water Plant


For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti

 Ypsilanti City Hall

Ypsilanti City Hall


Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!

 Bagley Pedestrian Bridge

Bagley Pedestrian Bridge





 Big Red Lighthouse

Big Red Lighthouse


Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)

 The Spirit of Detroit

The Spirit of Detroit



 Romulus Historical Museum

Romulus Historical Museum


Sleeping Bear, Sault Saint Marie

 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For the Homeless in Muskegon)

 Muskegon State Park

Muskegon State Park


Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)

 The Redford Theater

The Redford Theater

 The Marquee of Redford Township

The Marquee of Redford Township

 Yours Truly Enjoying Sleeping Bear, running to the top, and only getting a little scared

Yours Truly Enjoying Sleeping Bear, running to the top, and only getting a little scared