Across the Margin carries on with its rollout of the Best Albums of 2018 with albums 30 – 21…
The countdown continues…
30. boygenius – EP
While boygenius is a new group, born into the world in 2018, its triumphant parts have been well known and celebrated by music enthusiasts for years. Featuring the combined talents of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridges, and Lucy Dacus, boygenius is an embarrassment of riches comprising a trio of today’s most gifted singer-songwriters. While technically an EP, what boygenius accomplishes in this collaboration is to demonstrate the power in combinative talents. Supergroups can be hit or miss (Superheavy, Lou Reed and Metallica, Hollywood Vampires, and Velvet Revolver — to name just a few slips.), but the way in which Baker, Bridges, and Dacus meld together is otherworldly. At its most potent, the three incredibly talented artists converge in glorious, deeply affecting harmonies. Working and creating together only seems to heighten each of their abilities, and what boygenius truly amounts to is a masterclass in intricate cumulative songwriting, and we are hoping beyond hope this collaboration is not simply a one-off.
29. Phonte — No News Is Good News
To us, Little Brother, the hip-hop trio made up of 9th Wonder, Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte, is hip-hop royalty (give The Listening or The Minstrel show a spin if you aren’t buying that.). So, when we heard Phonte was releasing a solo album this year, his first since 2011’s Charity Starts at Home, we were all ears. Phonte’s No News Is Good News is emphatically grown man’s rap, an album that is deeply relatable by those of us whose rotations around the sun are starting to accumulate. One song on the album tackles sleep apnea and high blood pressure (“Expensive Genes”), another, “Cry No More,” delves into how an individual views their parents with different eyes as they themselves age. No News Is Good News is deep. It’s an album that could only be birthed by a rapper of a certain age who is aware of, and comfortable with, who they truly are. If you are in the market for a deeply honest and introspective hip-hop album rife with complex lyricism and smooth-as-silk beats — No News Is Good News is for you.
28. Anderson .Paak — Oxnard
Since the phenomenally talented California musician, producer, and bandleader Anderson .Paak (Brandon Paak Anderson) made waves with the release of 2016’s brilliant Malibu, music lovers have been eagerly awaiting its follow-up. With the release of Oxnard last month, a tribute to his hometown, .Paak did not disappoint. Rather, his latest album catapulted his stardom to new heights, encompassing a collection of songs that pulsate with enthusiasm and dazzling artistry. Oxnard (released on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label) is all over the place, but not in a sloppy sort of way, instead in the spirit of a live show. .Paak’s maganamous presence radiates from each and every track, and you can almost picture him as he pounds away on his drum-kit spitting soulful rhymes. To us, .Paak feels just as much an emcee as a cosmic conductor who orchestrates the mass of featured guests on the album (including Pusha-T, BJ the Chicago Kid Q-Tip Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar, to just name a few) while crafting a work of art that is as much a representation of .Paak’s boundless talents as it is a celebration.
27. Against All Logic (A.L.L) — 2012-2017
2012–2017 is the third studio album by electronic music phenom Nicolas Jaar under the moniker A.A.L. (Against All Logic), an alias resurrected from Jaar’s past. For those unfamiliar with Jarr’s work (drop everything and dig into Darkside!), the first thing we can tell you is that it is often hard to simply categorize his work, as Jaar’s talents and musical interests are plentiful. 2012-2017 could most aptly be described as funky, smooth, and entirely rhythmic house music that is heavy-handed with the samples (in the best of ways). The album amounts to a collection of tracks produced by Jaar in the period between 2012 and 2017, and is brimming with buoyant, downright cheerful dancefloor hits that are hypnotic and all-embracing. Simply put, 2012-2017 is one of the most fun releases we’ve come upon all year, the perfect album to throw on when you want to cut loose.
26. Father John Misty — God’s Favorite Customer
Father John Misty (Josh Tillman) is the ideal rock star for this particular moment in time. Part musician, part comedian, and part philosopher, the way in which Tilman chronicles the absurdity of modern times is nothing short of breath-taking. His lyrics are introspective, yet often disconcerting, in the same way a good, hard look in the mirror can be. Tillman’s poetic verses are revelatory to the shortcomings of the human condition (both generally, and personally), and telling to the the odd nuances that define our relationships. Throughout all his albums, particularly the outstanding I Love You, Honeybear (2015) and Pure Comedy (2017), Tillman analyzes the world around him with his tongue firmly in cheek. But on his latest release, God’s Favorite Customer, Tillman’s laughter has dried up, replaced with an overarching melancholy that is heart-wrenching, fashioning the album as his most touching yet. On the title track Tillman asserts “I’m out here testing the maxim / that all good things have to stop.” It’s a statement that we can’t help but ponder in terms of his prodigious output. With God’s Favorite Customer Tillman has delivered yet another riveting album, his fourth marvel in a row under the Father John Moniker. Unreal.
25. A$AP Rocky — Testing
A$AP Rocky’s third album, Testing, is another novel piece of art from the NYC-based rapper. For each of his first three studio albums, A$AP set out to challenge himself (test himself…), and to craft uncommon soundscapes in which to work and rhyme within. On Testing, A$AP amasses elements of hip-hop, trap music, soul, R&B, and even psychedelic rock and discharges the resulting creation over fifteen incohesive but absolutely fascinating tracks. While the album features assists from the likes of Moby (yes, that Moby), Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, Skepta, French Montana, Kodak Black, Dev Hynes and FKA Twigs, A$AP’s skills shine the brightest when he attacks the beat solo. This tendency is exhibited in the club banger “Praise The Lord (Da Shine)” and the ultra smooth “Kids Turned Out Fine.” Testing is powerful evidence that you never know what A$AP is going to come with when he drops an album.
24. Bonny Doon — Longwave
There is something so beautiful, so powerful, about honesty in art. In reality, confidence and strength isn’t observed through bluster and pride, but in being authentic, and there is no rock band that we came upon in 2018 that rang of authenticity in the way that Bonny Doon does. Bonny Doon is a young band out of Detroit that crafts dreamy alt-rock songs that are lyrically relatable and sonically soothing. On the opening titular track of their second album Longwave, Bill Lennox, one of the group’s two singer-songwriters (Bobby Colombo, the other), confidently sings “You are who you’re supposed to be.” Cut to the following track, “A Lotta Things,” where despair settles in as Lennox croons, “I should be happy, but I’m not, but I’m not…” Such is Longwave, a capricious album rife with whimsical and introspective melancholy. Written over the course of a trip to a lake house in Northern Michigan, and lyrically wrought with the malaise of someone attempting to figure it all out, Longwave is an absolutely refreshing album, and one whose genuineness and pacifying nature has us returning to it again and again.
23. Soccer Mommy — Clean
Twenty-year-old Sophie Allison has forged something magical on her debut studio album Clean. Performing under the tongue-in-cheek alias Soccer Mommy, Allison builds through ten undeniably excellent songs an album effused with startling vulnerability, unfettered bluntness, and wisdom beyond her years as she speaks to her tales of love, betrayal and the complexities of youth. The pivotal accomplishment on Clean is the song “Blossom (Wasting All My Time).” On the song, Allison sings softly over strummed guitars so sparse that they appear to take on a mystical property. “Wasting all my time wondering if you really loved me / I was wasting all my time thinking about the way you treat me / Wasting all my time on someone who didn’t know me / I was wasting all my time on someone who couldn’t love me,” Allison delicately sings. The lyrics, and their delivery, are decidedly powerful, and speak to a simmering uneasiness mixed with youthful desire prevalent on the album. Towards the end of the song “Scorpio Rising,” Allison sings: “And I’m just a victim of changing planets / My Scorpio rising, and my parents,” straightforwardly acknowledging with her youth that there is a lot she can’t control about her life. However, what’s made evident on Clear, is that although there may be things out of Allison’s control — parents, partners, friendships, love — there is the possibility that all these things can be figured out with time. Across Clean’s songs, Allison reaffirms her commitment to the challenging undertaking of untangling these emotional threads of the head and heart and we’re just happy to be along for the journey.
22. Vince Staples — FM
With each passing year, Vince Staples impresses us more and more. Just over a year since Staples released his second album, Big Fish Theory, he returned with another gem of an album in FM. Stylized in the guise of a commercial radio show, FM (get it!) is flush with the thematics that we have come to expect from Staples: hustling, black pride, hometown (“Norf-side”) reppin’, cutting loose and having fun. Produced by the Connecticut-born producer, Kenny Beatz, FM acts as yet another showcase of Staples unearthly talents. Seemingly never having to come up for air as he spits (see: “Relay,” “Run the Bands”), Staples maneuvers through the varied beats on FM like a seasoned vet, while dropping a plethora of satisfying party bangers (“Feels Like Summer,” “Outside”).
21. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
You have to give credit to Car Seat Headrest for wanting to get it right. Their latest album, Twin Fantasy, exists as an exercise in pursuing a goal as lofty as perfection. Originally recorded in 2011 — when the driving force behind the project, Will Toledo, was just 19 years old —Twin Fantasy has been re-imagined and re-mastered for Car Seat Headrest’s evolving tastes. It’s a bold move for a band to revisit an album, especially coming off the near universal acclaim for their previous album Teenage Denial (we gave it top billing two years ago in our Best Albums of 2016). Our initial response to the news of such an unusual maneuver was skepticism, as what we really craved was new Car Seat Headrest, not a rehashing of the old. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly if you take a moment to consider the depths of Toledo’s musical talents) the re-imagined Twin Fantasy supersedes not only its original recording, but their critically acclaimed previous release, Teenage Denial. We here at Across the Margin have realized that there is another way, another avenue for us to explore in our musical appreciation. It’s one where the past reaches into the present to inform the future. Songs like “Sober to Death,” “Nervous Young Humans,” and “Bodys” perfectly illustrate Car Seat Headrest’s flexibility as they adapt their songs to their changing tastes and abilities. Where in the past these songs would have been described as raw, or maybe self-unaware, on the newly-imagined Twin Fantasy they manifest themselves as anything but. There’s depth, passion, heartbreak, desire, uncertainty and, yes, laughs running a current through this cycle of songs. The lyrics are first-class, clever and distinctive, and as you progress through the album the things to which Toledo speaks of begin to accumulate within you, opening up a new level of appreciation, or maybe understanding, of Twin Fantasy. If you think rock is dead, go out and buy Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy and you’ll see how very much alive, and thriving, the genre is.
To Be Continued…