Vermont is for Lovers, and (apparently) June is for Hip-hop. At the time of writing, we now find ourselves halfway through the year, at the start of a hot summer, and emerging from an absolute barrage of new releases from some of the biggest names in music. I’m not gonna beat around the bush, lots of objectively-fucked up shit happened in June, but for the sake of avoiding politics and leaning into happiness, let’s take a break from that and focus on some of the life-affirming art we’ve been lucky enough to receive this past month.
Just in the past 30 days we’ve witnessed numerous Kanye-produced records, multiple collab albums, surprise drops, and long-awaited debuts from rising up-and-comers. Let’s jump into our recap of June’s best albums and kick things off with one of my most conflicted releases of the year.
Kanye West - ye
Kanye West likes Donald Trump. There’s no way around it, and it’s an ugly fact that I’d rather ignore, but much like AA, the first step is to say it out loud just to get over the mental hangup. Ever since Kanye’s pre-album political nonsense this spring, I’ve approached his music and persona with more apprehension than ever before. While I already detailed my excited, confused, and conflicting thoughts on Kanye’s eighth album here, I feel it’s worth mentioning in this roundup if only because June was a month dominated by Mr. West and it all kicked off with this album.
On ye, it seems as if Kanye is fully-embracing his life philosophy of “soon as they like you, make ‘em unlike you,” the only problem is, this is the first time I've ever personally found myself unliking him. I can see where he’s coming from (at the end of the day, Kanye has more in common with Trump than he does with Obama) but his public support remains a massive enjoyment-deterring red flag that lingers in the back of my brain while listening to this album.
If you’re wondering why I’m talking so much about politics, and controversy, and things outside the music, it’s because that’s exactly what the album itself does. My primary criticism with ye is that it’s mired almost exclusively in the events of the past few weeks. It sounds cool, it’s well-produced, and has some fun moments, but politics aside I fear for how well this album will age. Especially when stacked up against other classics in a discography of records that have only gotten better with age, I don’t see ye standing the test of time. Maybe it will turn out to be a fun time capsule, but I don’t know how much I’ll want to be remembering Kanye’s TMZ interview years down the line. ye is timely, not timeless. All we can do now is wait to see how well it holds up and hope that the damage isn’t irreparable.
Dance Gavin Dance - Artificial Selection
Dance Gavin Dance’s debut was bookended by the lyrics “I believe there’s meaning / No I believe there’s nothing,” an anthemic refrain that ended up becoming a sort of mission statement for the Sacramento natives. Active for over a decade, Dance Gavin Dance have inadvertently become old guards of the post-hardcore scene, a single constant among one of the most volatile and ever-changing musical genres. Not to say the band themselves haven't had their share of ups and downs; after a revolving door of members leaving, re-joining, and then re-leaving, the group seems to have finally cemented into a steady line-up that they've maintained for four albums now. After hitting a possible career-high with 2016’s Mothership, the group has returned with Artificial Selection, their longest and most powerful output to date.
To me, Dance Gavin Dance has always embodied the best this genre has to offer; beautiful, emotional, and earnest melodic singing stacked against overtly-goofy but hard-hitting screams all battling for the listener’s attention over hyper-proficient musicianship. It’s a musical Yin and Yang with two sides that are diametrically opposed, yet somehow work together to raise each other. Regardless of the lineup, each Dance Gavin Dance album feels like the band is a cohesive entity working together for one common purpose, clawing tooth and nail toward their greater artistic vision.
While most of Artifical Selection is precisely what fans have come to expect from DGD, the album’s most impressive feat comes in its closing moments on “Evaporate” when the group runs through a breathtaking medley of eight songs during the album’s final minute. The result is a one-of-a-kind career-spanning highlight reel that encapsulates 13 years of musical highs, lows, phases, and lineups. The 60-seconds are jam-packed with second-long flashes from different bygone eras, each of which unearth long-buried feelings that now feel fresh as ever. It’s an absolutely staggering musical achievement, and one that only long-time fans will fully-appreciate, but this goosebump-inducing outro alone is worth the price of admission.
Nas - Nasir
Despite claims of album completion in 2016, it took until this month for the public to hear Nas’ long-awaited twelfth studio album. Undoubtedly re-written, retooled, and revamped in the intervening years, Nasir is the penultimate release of Kanye West's Wyoming Sessions. Opener “Not For Radio” throws the listener headlong into a torrent of various political proclamations that let the listener know what they’re in for by immediately baptizing them in the deep end. From there “Cops Shot the Kid” is a unique and poignant track placed over a constantly-repeating Slick Rick loop that bears the song’s title. Other highlights include the soulful “White Label” and the far-out “Simple Things.” Overall, Nasir is a bold, compact, and political release from one of the former figureheads of the hip-hop scene.
Colin Stetson - Hereditary (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Spoiler-Free
Whew. I don’t write about soundtracks on here very often, but Hereditary has hung with me long after my first viewing. I went into the movie alone on a stormy Wednesday as a way to test out my new MoviePass card when I found myself with an abundance of free time. Aside from social media hype and my passive A24 fandom I had no idea what the movie was about or what to expect going in. Hereditary is the first time I’ve ever experienced true horror in a movie theater on a genuine level. I covered my mouth during one scene that took me by such surprise I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. My heart was beating out of my chest for the film’s final act, and I had to consciously remind myself that this was only a movie. I left the theater speechless, physically weak, and in awe of what I’d just taken in.
Award-worthy direction, writing, and performances aside, an essential element to the film is Colin Stetson’s reserved score. It oscillates between moments of minuscule almost non-existent instrumentation that then quickly drop out into explosions of unease that coincide with the film’s most disturbing moments. Both as a movie and an album, Hereditary is absolutely dreadful. A horrific march through grief, death, and trauma that has haunted me more than any other film I’ve ever seen in my life.
Beyonce & Jay-Z - Everything Is Love
Surprise released on an unsuspecting Saturday night in mid-June, Everything Is Love finds the biggest power couple in music teaming up for a collab album of fashionable flexing and marital bliss. Hopefully the final nail in the coffin of the “Lemonade Narrative,” the album sees both Bey and Jay mending fences following 2016’s embarrassingly-public infidelity. Full of lavish beats, ballads, and bangers, the duo’s joint effort is just as opulent as their previous work would lead you to believe. Most of the tracks see Beyonce pulling double duty as both singer and rapper, occasionally passing the mic off to Jay for him to interject a verse or two of his own. Soulful, holistic, and (fittingly) loving, this record is pure fun, even if it’s exactly what you expect going in.
Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch
Following a detour into ambient, a memorable Twin Peaks appearance, and a (still-ongoing) love affair with film scores, Reznor and Co. are back with one of the darkest and most disintegrated releases they’ve ever recorded. Both a return to form and a bit of a curveball, Bad Witch is a dark, distant, and delightfully-distorted vision of a bygone future. Simultaneously jazzy and machine-driven, NIN’s latest record finds inspiration in David Bowie’s near-death Blackstar, so much so that I actually mistook album closer “Over and Out” as a posthumous feature from the Goblin King himself. Technically the third entry in a trilogy of EPs following 2016’s Not the Actual Events and 2017’s Add Violence, this record’s Bowie emulation has led fans to believe this grouping of EPs is Reznor’s approximation/interpretation of the Berlin Trilogy. A bold comparison to draw, but Bad Witch is so strong, I don’t think that many could begrudge it. There are long-winding instrumental stretches, far-off intermittent vocals, and even an unexpected sax interjection at one point. The singing is sparse and drowned-out in ancillary noise, but the end result is a potent and impactful release that will likely be vaulted up with the decade-old classics of NIN’s long and storied discography.
Father John Misty - God’s Favorite Customer
I don’t even know where to begin with Josh Tillman anymore. His extra-musical antics range from clever to tiring, but primarily because they’re never-ending. While I enjoyed 2017’s Pure Comedy enough for it to end up on our 2017 AOTY list, that record was still a draining, exhausting, downer of a listen. In contrast, God’s Favorite Customer offers almost a polar opposite: a hyper-specific depiction of Tillman’s life on a micro level that still manages to retain some of the grandiose musicality from his last release.
If I Love You, Honeybear was an album about his wife, Pure Comedy was a record about all of humanity, and now Pure Comedy is an album about himself. Stark and introspective, Tillman balances the balladry of Comedy with the more ornamental musicality of Honeybear for a record that ends up feeling like the best of both worlds. It’s an album written mid-breakdown while holed away in a Wes Anderson-esque hotel. There are pangs of paranoia, depression, and crippling self-doubt, but the important thing is that both the narrator and the listener emerge from the experience as better people.
Snail Mail - Lush
At the risk of echoing already-hyperbolic publications, I flat-out adore Lush. I’ve previously written quite a bit about Snail Mail, even going as far as to call this my most anticipated release of the year, and I’m now proud to write that Lush is everything I’d hoped it would be.
I first discovered Snail Mail last year when they were opening for Girlpool. I had already staked out a great spot for the main act one or two people away from the front of the stage in a small 200-some capacity venue here in Portland. I’d never heard of Snail Mail, but once they started playing my jaw just dropped, and I was rapt for their entire set.
There’s something pure about “discovering” a band like that, especially in a live setting just a few feet away from the music. It has been weirdly-affirming to watch Lindsey Jordan blow up since then. Between the Matador signing, her Tiny Desk concert, and all this recent press, it’s been wild to watch her soar so high so quickly.
I guess I feel a microcosm of the “I liked them before they were cool,” but at the same time, I’m goddamn happy for her. I’ve been spinning Habit and her (now deleted?) Sticki EP endlessly since that concert last year, even going as far as to manually rip the Tiny Desk performance onto my phone just so I was able to listen to “Anytime” at any time. This record has been a year in the making for me, and I couldn’t be happier.
Lush is somber, morose, and personal. Built around heartfelt tales and personal drama, each song features Jordan’s voice front and center, often working itself up to an explosive and passionate melody over her own jangly guitar-work. It hurts to listen to, but it also helps the ease the pain at the same time. It’s a beautiful contradiction, an awe-inspiring exploration of growth, and the exact kind of record I need right now.
Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
Bookending this month’s roundup we have Kids See Ghosts which is the collaborative project of Kid Cudi and Kanye West. Practically the polar opposite of the hyper-timely slice-of-life lyrics found on ye, Kids See Ghosts is a psychedelic and ethereal release that feels much more refined and long-lasting. The album ranges from anthemic (“Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2)”) to absurdly-confident (“Cudi Montage”) but everything circles around a central theme of mental health which both men have publicly struggled with in recent years. Having emerged from the other side of their respective traumas (and even beef), Kids See Ghosts is both celebratory and affirming, a joint effort to be better, happier people. Both artists provide spectacular counterpoints to one another, and the entire collaboration feels like an equitable, vibrant, psychedelic journey to the higher self.
- Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of: Medieval psychedelic rock beamed to earth from an abandoned space-station that grows increasingly-schizophrenic with each passing minute.
- Natalie Prass - The Future and the Past: Funky hip-swaggering indie rock with heartfelt vocals that pierce through your soul.
- Anthony Green - Would You Still Be In Love: The Circa Survive frontman takes a rustic acoustic detour to wax poetically about love and life.
- Joan Of Arc - 1984: Collaborative indie rock that give a voice to those that are hungriest.
- Get Up Kids - Kicker: A four-track EP and the first material in seven years from the forefathers of pop-punk. A warmly-welcomed return to the genre.
- Pllush - Stranger to the Pain: Blissed-out and dreamy emo rock with siren vocals, swirling soundscapes, and heartfelt lyrics.
- serpentwithfeet - soil: Smutty lower-case R&B that gets progressively more depraved as it goes along.
- gobbinjr. - ocala wick: Hyper-personal bedroom indie rock that bleeds rawly over bouncy electronic bloops and gorgeous guitar work.
- Würst Nürse - Hot Hot Hot: Balls-out fully-female punk rock. A quartet of hot tracks that shred, rip, and thrash their way towards triumph.
- Flasher - Constant Image: Blissed-out grunge-influenced tunes for lovers of the Pixies and similarly-sharp alternative.
- Jorja Smith - Lost & Found: After vaulting to fame thanks to a 2017 Drake appearance, Jorja Smith is now fully-ready for the RnB spotlight.
- Petal - Magic Gone: Throwback grungy tunes with a voice like a bell and emotions like a shark.
- Protomartyr - Consolation: Crushing post-punk with rolling drums and charging bass. A wall ready to be defaced.
- Melody’s Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage: Ever-changing and dreamy French indie rock.
- Jay Rock - Redemption: Reformed gangster tales from the TDE mainstay. Well-polished and hard-hitting, this is the hip-hop dark night of the soul you need at 2am.
- SOPHIE - Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides: Shiny, polished, and clean electronic pop from the renowned and enigmatic producer.
- State Champs - Living Proof: Happy-go-lucky pop-punk with more group chants, anthemic choruses, and maudlin sentiments than you can shake a stick at.
- The Sloppy Boys - Lifelong Vacation: Comprised of indie comedy legends Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, and Jefferson Dutton, Lifelong Vacation is a hilarious, fun, and rockin’ outing that I can’t get enough of.
- Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs: Sharp and surfy tunes from the Australian indie rockers.
- Culture Abuse - Bay Dream: Unrelentingly-joyous and fast-moving, Bay Dream is a textbook pop-punk Summer album.
- Death Grips - Year Of The Snitch: 👄
- Freddie Gibbs - Freddie: Hard beats and hard bars, all delivered in under 30 minutes.
- Drake - Scorpion: After getting publicly-owned in one of the decade’s most high-profile rap beefs, Drake is back with an exhausting 25 tracks of rap-singing and Drive-inspired outerwear.
- Jim James - Uniform Distortion: The fourth solo album from the My Morning Jacket frontman with just as much distortion, charm, and good vibes as fans have come to expect.
- Florence + The Machine - High as Hope: Sweeping, ornamental, and theatrical, High as Hope captures slowly-building slice of life confessions.
- Spencer Radcliffe - If I Knew How: Earnest as ever, Spencer Radcliffe’s newest EP contains a handful of early recordings that showcase the development stages of the songwriting process.
- Self Defense Family - Have You Considered Punk Music: The newest stark and emotional journey courtesy of Run For Cover Records.
- The Milk Carton Kids - All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do: Slow-burning and fast-smoldering country tunes.
Singles from St. Vincent, Mezingers, Saba, Asking Alexandria, Charli XCX, MadeinTYO, IDLES, Interpol, Manchester Orchestra, Mom Jeans, Death Cab For Cutie, Alt-J, The Kooks, Nicki Minaj, Mogwai, Yo La Tengo, Mitski, Sheryl Crow, Angelo De Augustine, Rubblebucket, 2 Chainz, Grimes, The Mountain Goats, Tyler, The Creator, Deafheaven, Meek Mill, Thee Oh Sees, Smashing Pumpkins, and BROCKHAMPTON.
Finally, here are some 2018 records from earlier months that I missed, but wish I hadn't.
- Deeper - Deeper: Bouncy indie rock that keeps time like a well-oiled machine.
- Bonny Don - Longwave: Laid-back, jangly, and jaunty indie rock with a tasteful tinge of country. The perfect album for a porch beer.
- The Fearless Flyers - The Fearless Flyers: Someone this passed me by (despite receiving multiple emails about it) but the latest spinoff from the Vulfpeck collective is irresponsibly funky.
- Harrison Whitford - Afraid of Everything: Heartfelt soul-prodding folk with a jangly country bent.