The Year In Music: 2018 Month By Month

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I saw someone online call 2018 “The Year of Forgettable Music,” and, while I understand where they’re coming from, I must disagree. Much like 2017, I feel like there was no breakaway “unanimous” album of the year. There was no Blonde, no Carrie & Lowell, not even a DAMN. No single album swept through every major publication’s AOTY lists, and that’s a good thing. Despite the lack of a clear AOTY winner, I found myself impressed by 2018 because I was keeping track of new releases more than any other year before.

Back in January I felt overwhelmed with the amount of exciting new music that had come out in a month that’s typically quiet for new releases. Inspired by this wealth of new music, I sat down, wrote a few thoughts on some of the month’s best albums, and published it in the same day. In truth, that post was as much for me to help remember what I was enjoying as it was a genuine “roundup” of new releases. 

While I didn’t know it at the time, the decision to publish that one post would have an impact on the rest of my 2018. From that month onward I took note of every new release I listened to throughout the calendar year. I kept a long-running Google Doc of upcoming albums and even went as far as noting when artists put out new singles. 

In 2018 I listened to and wrote about 454 new releases. Some of those were full reviews, some of them were a paragraph or so, and some were only one sentence. While I would never have expected it back it at the beginning of the year, this monthly recap became a self-imposed tradition. What began as a one-off post about albums I’d been enjoying that month soon became an institution that I enjoyed doing. It was a challenge, but it also helped me feel more tapped-in to new music than ever before, and now you get to reap the benefits. 

While this may feel like a lot of backstory, this post is merely a collection of every monthly roundup I posted last year. It’s a comprehensive list of everything I listened to, enjoyed, and wrote about throughout all of 2018. Collectively, this post represents hundreds of albums, thousands of words, and countless hours of time. Please enjoy, bookmark, and feel free to use this as a guide to venture back through 2018 month-by-month to catch a release you may have missed out on. 

I choose to think of 2018 not as a year of forgettable music, but a year of hidden gems. Sure you may have to dig a little bit to find them, but the truth is the year is only as forgettable as you allow it to be. 


January Roundup

Featuring Tiny Moving Parts, Lil Wayne, Ty Segall, JPEGMAFIA, Jay Some, Migos, No Age, Drake, August Burns Red, Jeff Rosenstock, and Shame.

Featuring Tiny Moving Parts, Lil Wayne, Ty Segall, JPEGMAFIA, Jay Some, Migos, No Age, Drake, August Burns Red, Jeff Rosenstock, and Shame.

February Roundup

Featuring Cameron Boucher, Field Medic, Hovvdy, MGMT, Turnstile, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Justin Timberlake, and Car Seat Headrest.

Featuring Cameron Boucher, Field Medic, Hovvdy, MGMT, Turnstile, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Justin Timberlake, and Car Seat Headrest.

March Roundup

Featuring Soccer Mommy, Camp Cope, Sorority Noise, Jack White, Earthless, Yo La Tengo, and Haley Heynderickx.

Featuring Soccer Mommy, Camp Cope, Sorority Noise, Jack White, Earthless, Yo La Tengo, and Haley Heynderickx.

April Roundup

Featuring Fiddlehead, Hop Along, Saba, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Underoath, Half Waif, The Wonder Years, and Janelle Monáe.

Featuring Fiddlehead, Hop Along, Saba, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Underoath, Half Waif, The Wonder Years, and Janelle Monáe.

May Roundup

Featuring Parquet Courts, Rae Sremmurd, Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, Pusha T, Courtney Barnett, Ministry of Interior Spaces, and Illuminati Hotties.

Featuring Parquet Courts, Rae Sremmurd, Beach House, Arctic Monkeys, Pusha T, Courtney Barnett, Ministry of Interior Spaces, and Illuminati Hotties.

June Roundup

Featuring Kanye West, Dance Gavin Dance, Nas, Colin Stetson, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails, Father John Misty, Snail Mail, and Kids See Ghosts.

Featuring Kanye West, Dance Gavin Dance, Nas, Colin Stetson, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails, Father John Misty, Snail Mail, and Kids See Ghosts.

July Roundup

Featuring Mom Jeans, Future, Bongripper, Deafheaven, The National, Denzel Curry, and Wild Pink.

Featuring Mom Jeans, Future, Bongripper, Deafheaven, The National, Denzel Curry, and Wild Pink.

August Roundup

Featuring Travis Scott, Tides of Man, Foxing, Jesus Piece, Young Thug, IDLES, Justin Vernon, Aaron Dessner, and Mitski.

Featuring Travis Scott, Tides of Man, Foxing, Jesus Piece, Young Thug, IDLES, Justin Vernon, Aaron Dessner, and Mitski.

September Roundup

Featuring Noname, Yves Tumor, Shortly, Young Thug, BROCKHAMPTON, This Will Destroy You, Microwave, Pinegrove, and Lil Wayne.

Featuring Noname, Yves Tumor, Shortly, Young Thug, BROCKHAMPTON, This Will Destroy You, Microwave, Pinegrove, and Lil Wayne.

October Roundup

Featuring TTNG, St. Vincent, Kurt Vile, Haley Heynderickx, Max García Conover, Destroy Boys, Gunna, Lil Baby, This Will Destroy You, The Wonder Years, Shortly, Oso Oso, Have Mercy, and Minus the Bear.

Featuring TTNG, St. Vincent, Kurt Vile, Haley Heynderickx, Max García Conover, Destroy Boys, Gunna, Lil Baby, This Will Destroy You, The Wonder Years, Shortly, Oso Oso, Have Mercy, and Minus the Bear.

November Roundup

Featuring Metro Boomin’, boygenius, Sufjan Stevens, August Burns Red, Vince Staples, Liance, Takeoff, Fleet Foxes, and Earl Sweatshirt.

Featuring Metro Boomin’, boygenius, Sufjan Stevens, August Burns Red, Vince Staples, Liance, Takeoff, Fleet Foxes, and Earl Sweatshirt.

December Roundup

Featuring Vulfpeck, Field Medic, Bay Faction, 21 Savage, Dan Campbell, Ace Enders, Bruce Springsteen, and Catholic Werewolves.

Featuring Vulfpeck, Field Medic, Bay Faction, 21 Savage, Dan Campbell, Ace Enders, Bruce Springsteen, and Catholic Werewolves.

December 2018: Album Review Roundup

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It’s our final roundup of the year, and it’s been an eventful month both in music and in life. This December I flew across the country, enjoyed the holidays with my family, and reconnected with all of my old friends back home. As far as this blog goes, I’ve been writing a ton in order to get our various end of the year lists and awards up before the year actually ended. Meanwhile, as with most other industries, new music seemed to slow down to a trickle in December for the most part. Even though there were less new releases this month, there was no shortage of quality projects worth enjoying through the final weeks of 2018.


Vulfpeck - Hill Climber

On May 26th of 2016, I saw Vulfpeck in concert, and it was one of the best shows I’ve been to in my entire life. I’ve been to rowdier concerts, louder concerts, and maybe even more “technically” impressive concerts, but there was a magic in the air that night as the ever-shifting funk group laid down a two-hour-long set of greatest hits and unforgettable spur-of-the-moment improvisations. While I respect the band’s hustle (one project a year from 2011 onward is nothing to sneeze at) even the most hardcore of Vulfpeck fans will admit that the band has gotten away from their instrumental roots. While the group’s “vocal” tracks have become some of their biggest hits, I was ecstatic to find out not a word is spoken on the back half of Hill Climber. There are still some catchy and funky cuts on Side A, but nothing quite beats the deep groove of the songs like “Soft Parade” or the fourth installment of “It Gets Funkier.” Despite my personal feelings on the group’s non-instrumental work, Hill Climber is yet another entry in an almost-flawless discography.

 

Field Medic - little place

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Field Medic has been one of my biggest loves of 2018. From discovering Songs From The Sunroom at the very beginning of the year to saving his hat from mosh pit peril at a Remo Drive show, my year has been marked by the musical presence of Kevin Patrick Sullivan. I showered Field Medic with multiple awards in this year’s Diamond Platters, but right when I thought our year together was over he surprise-released little place in the twilight hours of 2018. Short and poetic as ever, little place features six songs, all one-minute a piece. The mini-ep is like a sketchbook put to music, and as invasive as that may sound, it feels more like a peek inside your own head than that of our narrator. Personable, charming, and poetic, there’s no better way to kill six minutes than a little listen to little place

 

Bay Faction - Florida Guilt

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Back in 2014 Bay Faction uploaded a four-track demo of their songs to reddit and a man named Jake Sulzer liked them so much he decided to start a record label just to help them release their first full-length. That label was Counter Intuitive Records which is now home to the likes of Mom Jeans, Prince Daddy & The Hyena, and more. While the band put out their self-titled emo debut on Counter Intuitive, they’re now self-released their long-awaited follow-up Florida Guilt, and the record is a bold and emotional step in a new direction. Moving away from the overwrought sentiments of their debut, the band now finds themselves placing a greater focus on catchy melodies, bouncy hooks, and memorable moments within the songs. There’s cleaner production, but the minds behind the words are still the same. Exploring a similar territory of youthful emotion and over-action, Florida Guilt is an unexpected but beautiful pivot.

 

21 Savage - i am > i was

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While I would never have expected it back in 2016, 21 Savage seems like he’s on a warpath to become one of the rap game’s biggest stars. Between high profile collaborations, chart-topping singles, and a hearty helping of meme-worthy moments, 21 seems to have been making all the right moves recently. On top of all this, he’s spent the last two years honing his craft and becoming both a personable and proficient rapper while racking up hits along the way. i am > i was is the latest in 21’s string of increasingly-quality releases, the album boasts soulful beats, opulent flexes, and a star-studded feature list. While some spots lack substance,  i am > i was is just excellent trap music, and sometimes you don’t need much more than that. 

 

Clear Hearts Fanzine - Season 1, Episodes 1-6

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Clear Hearts Fanzine is a collaborative project headed up by Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November Men. Bonded by their love of the mid-2000’s hit TV show Friday Night Lights, Season 1, Episodes 1-6 is a concept album centering around the occupants of Dillon, Texas and their day-to-day lives. While the two have collaborated before on Aaron West and a tearful Bruce Springsteen cover, this project represents the first full release the duo has teamed up to craft from the ground up. Preceded by an in-depth interview with the two artists, their passion for the show is deep, their creation is earnest, and their fandom is endless. 

 

Bruce Springsteen - Springsteen on Broadway

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In a move that harkens back to one of the greatest live albums of all time, Springsteen on Broadway is the audio version of Springsteen’s Broadway residency which spanned from 2017 to 2018. The format is simple; The Boss himself is on stage alone with nothing more than a guitar and mic. As he runs through some of the greatest hits of his five-decade-long career each song is accompanied by an introduction in which Springsteen details the backstory that led to its inception. Pulling largely from his 2016 autobiography, the tales are earnest, confessional, inspirational, and intimate. There’s a reason why Springsteen is our country’s greatest classic rock act, and we should all be honored to have him tell the story of our lives. 

 

Catholic Werewolves - You're Gonna Miss Everything Cool And Die Angry

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I’ve fallen back in love with emo this year, and bands like Catholic Werewolves are the reason why. Sure, moving to the midwest lends itself well to frigid, inward thoughts, but I’ve felt a real sense of pride uncovering the bustling underground scene of a new city. In the case of You're Gonna Miss Everything Cool And Die Angry I found Catholic Werewolves through Stars Hollow who I found through Jail Socks who I found though Absinthe Father. The point is, there are dozens of bands like this in every city who are making incredible music that’s worth yelling out in someone’s sweaty living room. Yes, this record rips, but it’s also symbolic of the hungry acts in your local scene and the brilliance lying in wait for those willing to look. 

 

Quick Hits

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This month we also heard new singles from Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Toro Y Moi, La Dispute, Illuminati Hotties, Pedro The Lion, Fucked Up, CZARFACE, Phoebe Bridgers, Deerhunter, Xiu Xiu, Copeland, Broken Bells, Anna von Hausswolff, Ice Cube, Ezra Koenig, Danny Worsnop, Joshua Homme, Saba, Max Bloom, American Football, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Jay Som, Matt Berninger, Growlers, Saba, Amine, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Cane Hill, Cigarettes After Sex, Kelso, Swae Lee, 6Lack, The Voidz, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Post Malone, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Mac Demarco, The Raconteurs, and Noname.

Swim Into The Sound’s 10 Favorite Albums of 2018

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All Hail The Algorithm

If there was any sort of theme to 2018, it was Discovery. Discovery on a personal level, discovery on a professional level, and (most importantly) discovery on a musical level. This year I landed a new job, moved across the country, and started a new life three thousand miles away from everything I’ve ever known and loved. I met people I would never have crossed paths with otherwise and experienced things that only this opportunity could have afforded me. 

On the blog front, I kept up to date by writing about new releases each month. I conducted my first interview, got paid actual money to write reviews, and hit dozens of other landmark firsts that made running this blog feel like a fresh, rewarding, and challenging endeavor all throughout the year. 

As 2018 ticked on and my album of the year list began to take shape, an interesting trend emerged: most of my favorite albums of 2018 were from band’s I’d never listened to until this year.

Discoveries can be found in the most unexpected places, and sometimes coming into something entirely fresh leads to the most impactful results. Whether it’s discovering a band live in-concert, reading a compelling review, or hearing them pop up in a Spotify playlist, there’s something rewarding about that feeling of discovery. 

These are the albums that helped me. The projects that brought me joy, sorrow, pain, and everything in between in a year when emotions ran high, and everything seemed bound for cosmic change. These albums are the soundtrack to the development of my life. A year in flux and a life in motion. These are my favorite albums of 2018.


10 | Advance Base- Animal Companionship

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On some level, it’s easy to make songs that anyone can relate to. The biggest pop songs in the world are all about falling in love, or breaking up, or hanging out with your friends. Those are universal experiences. They’re songs written so broadly that’s you have to go out of your way to not connect with them. What’s more difficult than that is instilling that same feeling of connection through a life that the listener hasn’t experienced. To convey a sense of empathy through a portrayal so specific that, while not experienced first-hand, it loops back around to being relatable. That’s what Advance Base has done with Animal Companionship, and it’s a marvel. 

A loose concept album centered around pets, Animal Companionship finds Owen Ashworth rumbling through a series of ten tales all depicting a handful of ordinary Midwesterners. While their stories would sound bland being told in any other way, the Chicago folk singer has a way of delivering them which such gravitas and specificity that they become extraordinary. His vocals never rise above a steady barrel-chested hum, but emotions run high throughout the record.

Often accompanied only by keys or a solitary drum machine, Ashworth’s voice (and words) are almost always front and center for the listener to ingest and ruminate upon at their own pace. The tales are crystalline, realized, and lived-in as if Ashworth himself has lived all of these disparate timelines and experiences of the album’s fictional characters. Whether it’s running into an ex’s dog tied up outside of a coffee shop, or a friend who still has an answering machine just so they can leave their pet voicemails, every word is measured and impactful. It’s a frigid-sounding record that, yes, is sad, but is also sprinkled with moments of hope and even joy. It’s a portrayal of humanity framed through the animals who, through their proximity to us and our lives, make us a little more human in the process.  

9 | Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog

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I’ve spent about three years trying to understand the appeal of Hop Along. Between the time they released 2015’s Painted Shut and this year I’ve listened to every one of their albums multiple times and even seen them live, but for some reason, the band never stuck. Right when I was about to write them off telling myself “you don’t have to like everything” the group released Bark Your Head Off, Dog and everything finally clicked into place. 

While it took me a while to figure out, my biggest problem with Hop Along has always been that Frances Quinlan’s vocals are so good they overshadow everything else in most of their songs. There’s nothing wrong with the group’s instrumentals; I would just rather hear Quinlan sing over something that rivals her intensity. 

I gave Bark Your Head Off a few cursory listens before the final stretch of three songs began to sink their teeth into me. They were biting, fast-paced, and had enough ornamental flourishes that they rewarded repeat listens. They felt emotional and heartfelt while still retaining the personable stories Quinlan is known for. In short, the final three songs on this record were everything I’d been waiting to hear from Hop Along for years. 

Something about those three tracks must have opened my eyes because I eventually found myself listening to Bark Your Head Off, Dog front to back and being captivated by every track. I now realize the fault in my prior attempts was not the band, but me. I was looking for aggressive smoldering pop-punk songs, but in truth Hop Along is crafting loving (if not a little damaged) indie rock with a folk bent. It’s the musical equivalent of a glass of red wine, and either my taste was not refined enough to enjoy it before, or I came into their music thirsty for a cheap beer when I should have been savoring the complicated notes. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is a triumphant and passionate record that’s beautiful, rich, and worth savoring.

8 | Turnstile - Time & Space

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Clocking in at a grand total of 25 minutes, the longest song on Turnstile’s Time & Space is three minutes and 15 seconds. With every other track hovering between 46 seconds and two minutes, the album ends up feeling like an exercise in violent minimalism.

Making a name for their photogenic live shows, engaging crowds, and hard-hitting songs, Time & Space vaulted Turnstile to the forefront of the underground rock scene. The record itself is picture-perfect hardcore and irrefutable proof that you don’t need anything more than a solid riff and a driving chorus to make great music. 

Not only that, the band’s sophomore effort proved to be surprisingly-accessible, gaining them coverage, accolades, and glowing reviews from dozens of mainstream publications. Walking an intoxicating balance of punk and thrash, Time & Space is an outpouring of emotion. It’s barebones, straightforward, and efficient. It’s artistically-fulfilling, temperamentally-satiating, and even surprisingly catchy at times. It’s everything hardcore needs in 2018, and proof of what it can one day be.

7 | The Wonder Years - Sister Cities

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When I saw the Wonder Years back in May, lead singer Dan Campbell took some time between songs to make sure everyone had heard their newest album. After the resounding swell of voices quieted, he went on to explain a bit about the concept behind Sister Cities, specifically how the opening track “Raining in Kyoto” embodies many of the LP’s recurring themes. “It’s a record about connectivity, commonality, and empathy” Campbell explained to the rapt Portland audience. 

Sister Cities is a record about distance, but it's also a record about lack of distance. It's about the commonalities of man and the universal things that bind us as a race, about how little the physical space between people really matters when it comes down to it. Sister Cities is an album about human connection on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.

While it's reinforced by music videos and lyrics throughout this album, this concept of connectivity is exemplified best by the record’s 6-minute closer “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me.” In the song, Campbell uses the ocean as a stand-in for multiple important entities in his life. At first, the ocean is spoken of literally as a physical body of water that we're all attached to in some form or another. As the song plays out, the ocean becomes a metaphor for the brotherhood of humanity and the salvation we can find in our loved ones. 

Thematically, “Ocean” ties back to the opening track by referencing the passing of Dan's grandfather, but even that specific event is just a larger allusion to life, death, regret, and other inescapable human feelings that bond us together. The final verse of the song discusses illness and religion (two recurring topics for the band) but quickly moves onto real people in Dan's life. He talks about finding support in others when he needs it and learning to embrace that. Before a grandiose swell of music carries the record to a close, the final message of the album is a vital one: humanity is everything. Campbell explains there’s no fault in feeling defeated or asking for help. In fact, learning to give in when things are out of your control and growing to rely on those around you is an important part of life because sometimes that’s all we have.

6 | Mom Jeans - Puppy Love

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If you were to ask Eric Butler what type of music Mom Jeans makes, he would simply answer “pop.” Not emo, not indie, not pop-punk, but straight-up pop music. In truth, Mom Jeans is a little bit of all these things, but if you go into Puppy Love with an honest heart and an open mind, you’ll quickly understand exactly what he means. 

The band’s sophomore album is a release that appears unassuming on first listen. You might hear it a few times and think nothing of it. Then you may find yourself humming a melody that subconsciously embedded itself somewhere in your brain. Then on a relisten, a chorus from a deeper cut will grab you, and you’ll find yourself queueing that song up too. Then you find yourself identifying with a lyric from the opening track about staying in, eating Cheetos, and drinking chocolate milk because that’s exactly what you were doing this weekend too.

Puppy Love is my most-listened-to album of 2018, and that’s because Mom Jeans truly are creating pop music. It’s pop-punk perfected. It’s catchy, melodic, relatable, and keeps you coming back for more. Whether it’s screaming about moving out of your parent's house, or getting confessional with your dog, Mom Jeans have found a way to get to the heart of it all.

5 | Lucy Dacus - Historian

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Historian is the soundtrack to a life in decay. Opening track “Night Shift” starts calm and collected as a slow-moving folky jam extending a middle finger to evil exes. Gradually, the song builds without the listener realizing it, and suddenly Dacus is belting out the track’s namesake in a piercing Julien Baker-esque cry that pulls on your heart like an anchor. It’s a stunning moment that commands your attention and rips you into the reality of the song, if only for a moment. 

This jaw-dropping performance is just one of many surprises packed on the follow-up to Dacus’ impressive debut No Burden. Topics range from relationships in collapse to the imperfect nature of the self. It’s as disquieting as it is engaging, every word hinged around expert instrumentation and melodies that alternate between lying bare and exploding to life.

Pillar of Truth” is the record’s monumental penultimate track, an ode to Dacus’ dying grandmother who faced the unknown head-on with level-headed composure. The song peaks with a volcanic guitar solo that paves the way for the more pensive title track which acts as the record’s thesis statement and end credits. Historian is an album about failure. About collapse. About annihilation. More importantly, it’s about finding the power to recover from those feelings even when life leaves you feeling ragged and profoundly-alone… which is more of an inevitability than any of us would like to admit.

4 | Caroline Rose - Loner

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that rock music is supposed to be fun. And throughout all of 2018, I found no single album that embodied “FUN!” (caps, exclamation point and all) than Caroline Rose’s Loner

Loner is an album about being your uncool self and learning to embrace it. About saying ‘fuck you’ to the people that tell you to smile when you don’t want to smile. About sexism, bad decisions, and menial jobs. About being the one person at the party without a cool haircut. It’s a blend of hyper-specific yet universal songwriting that hits home for me, all of which is packed in an easily digestible 30-minute record. 

While the album itself is a wonderfully-varied and full-throttle romp, Caroline Rose’s live show adds a different level onto the proceedings entirely. From executing a flawless Macarena on-stage during an instrumental break to a rockin’ recorder solo, and even a loving cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” I’ve never seen a band have this much fun on stage making music, and that’s something we could all use more of in 2018. 

3 | Bambara - Shadow On Everything

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You wake up. A light breeze has blown the covers off of your body. You reach out to grab your sheets and pull them back up, but as your eyes open you notice you’re no longer in your room. You sit up, look around and see the horizon in every direction. You’re in the middle of a desert. It’s 3 in the morning, and you don’t know how you got here. That’s what listening to Shadow On Everything is like. 

Rumbling, snarling, and demonic, Shadow On Everything is a post-punk record with a southern twist. Described by the band as a “western gothic concept album,” it only takes one listen to see what that means. From front to back, Bambara’s sophomore effort is a morbid, disorienting, and dream-like exploration of humanity’s dark side. 

Shadow on Everything sounds like an episode of True Detective come to life, complete with all the violent self-destruction, overwrought sentiments, and foreboding imagery. Each song serves as a disturbing vignette, bonded together only by the ever-present sense that something horrible is lurking in the shadows just out of sight. It’s terrifying, engaging, and striking in a way that grips your attention and punishes you for looking away. A character study of humanity’s dark side and we have no choice but to stare into the reflection. Unforgiving desolation and absolute obliteration of the soul.

2 | Haley Heynderickx - I Need To Start A Garden

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We tend to measure our lives based on major events. When we tell ourselves our own story there are act breaks and demarcation points that signal a new phase of our ongoing story. While it feels like we’re perpetually in the most “important” period of our own existence, not everything is that life and death. Sometimes directionlessness and absence of action are just as harrowing as loss or heartbreak, and that sort of millennial malaise is the exact sentiment at the heart of I Need To Start a Garden.

The abundance of choice that comes with the first phase of adulthood is overwhelming. The sprawling omnidirectional decisions can feel endless, and sometimes failing to take that first step can lead to a cataclysmic avalanche of self-doubt and paralysis.  

Garden is a folk album. It’s instrumentally-simple, lyrically straightforward, and emotionally-bare. Despite the simplicity of its base components, the end result feels like something much more complex and grand than the sum of its parts. 

I first heard of Haley Heynderickx one week after her album was released, and even then I felt immediate guilt of not having listened to it even earlier. That’s how badly I needed this record in my life in 2018. I turned around a full review of the album within a month of its release, but Heynderickx’s messages of listless 20-something pain cut a path directly into my heart at a time when I was experiencing all of these exact feelings. To hear these struggles put to music was not only reassuring, it was spiritually-affirming. 

I now realize the difference between childhood and adulthood isn’t a feeling of assurance or confidence in your actions because that fear of the unknown never truly goes away. I may have felt listless, disheartened, and directionless this spring, but now having moved across the country, starting a new job, and embarking on new artistic endeavors, I’m just as unsure of myself as ever before. Adulthood is not knowing what you’re doing with one-hundred percent certainty. Adulthood is knowing that feeling of uncertainty is always going to be there, acknowledging it, and being okay with it as much as you possibly can.

1 | Fiddlehead - Springtime and Blind

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Sometimes music is the only thing that makes sense. Even when the world is changing, even when nothing works the way it’s supposed to, even when life throws everything it has at you, music is always there. Music has no judgments and no preconceived notions. It’s an objective outlet that exists to execute, quell, accentuate, or invert whatever mood you’re feeling at that time. There’s music for happiness, music for long drives, music for love, and sometimes there’s music for grief. 

Some of the greatest records of all time deal with insurmountable pain. 40-minute voyages into an artist’s psyche in the wake of a great loss or seismic shift of their day-to-day existence. Alums like Carrie & Lowell, A Crow Looked At Me, and Skeleton Tree are not only albums about death, they also happen to be some of the best in their respective artist's discographies because they feel the most human. While Springtime and Blind might not initially sound as “sad” as any of those records listed above, it deals with the same topic from a unique perspective that ends up making its message all the more powerful.

Springtime and Blind begins with a slowly-mounting drumline that’s soon joined by a grief-ridden cry of “YOU LIE AWAKE / to pass the time / Lose all your love? / Want some of mine?” Allegedly improvised in the album’s recording session, this first message bears the brunt of the record’s emotion and ignites the path for the remaining twenty-some minutes.

They’re not the same genre, but if I were to compare this album to anything, I’d name Japanese Breakfast’s 2016 breakthrough Psychopomp. Both records are under 25 minutes, segmented by meditative instrumentals, and waste no time jumping straight into heart-wrenching lyrics. Just as Psychopomp is an album about a daughter losing her mother, Springtime is an album about a son losing his father. They’re inverted experiences, yet still one and the same; two alternating approaches to the same universal experience of grief and loss that we will all must go through at some point. 

On some level, screamed frustration is a more accurate depiction of loss than sad, reserved folk music. Not to discount the inherent beauty of Carrie & Lowell, but everyone experiences loss differently, and Springtime and Blind offers a very authentic and genuine version of loss that I identify with. 

Sometimes change is a choice, but more often than not life forces change upon you. You’re forced to adapt and overcome or risk collapsing in the process. Some things can’t be changed or reversed, and all that’s left is to pick up the pieces and cling tightly to what’s left. That’s what Springtime and Blind offers. A family recovering. An explosion of grief followed by the first step of many toward recovery. It’s the sound of everything happening at once. The sound of birth and death. Of love and life. Of spirit and demons. And then it ends.

Swim Into The Sound’s 2018 Un-Awards

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.