Published Dec 04, 2018
15. Car Seat Headrest
One of the biggest mistakes you could make as a rock fan this year would be to assume Twin Fantasy is no more than a slightly cleaned up re-release of one of Will Toledo's pre-record label Bandcamp demos as Car Seat Headrest. In truth, what's on display here is kind of unprecedented: a completely re-recorded, from-the-ground-up remake of the lo-fi cult classic.
This new iteration is a triumph, sounding better than ever by marrying the brilliant lyrics from the original with the phenomenal musicianship and refined vocals Toledo and his band displayed on 2016's highly praised Teens of Denial. With new life in them, songs like "Bodys" evolve from a lo-fi experiment you might find cute to riveting, heart-pounding jams that deserve a spot on any "song of the year" list.
Twin Fantasy is an absolute best-case scenario for Car Seat Headrest fans, whether they've heard the original or not.
Corey Van den Hoogenband
14. Parquet Courts
At the conclusion of "Total Football," the captivating introduction to Parquet Courts' wondrous and outspoken album Wide Awake!, there's a lyrical barrage worth contemplating: "Swapping parts and roles is not acting but rather emancipation from expectation / Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exclusive / Those who find discomfort in your goals of liberation will be issued no apology / Fuck Tom Brady."
The abrupt shift from empowering manifesto to nihilistic provocation is in keeping with the kind of agit-prop Parquet Courts are up to on this, their seventh proper album. Wide Awake! is a letter-perfect, punk-infused musical contemplation of modern times, in which social uprisings are actually affecting positive change. Produced by Danger Mouse, it's urgent and potent music that's thought-provoking and danceable, and whose rage is measured by a pointed optimism. As such, an easy corollary can be made between the album's coy title and being "woke" — and it's a joyous conversation starter.
13. Arctic Monkeys
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
When Arctic Monkeys announced their sixth album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the world let out a collective "WTF?!" The British band, once known for clanging garage rock and detail-rich lyrics about British youth culture, had made a piano-based concept album about a luxury resort on the moon, with song titles including "The Ultracheese" and "The World's First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip." It seemed, after the massive mainstream success of 2013's AM, that they might have totally lost the plot.
But as alien as its lavish psych-pop sound is, Tranquility Base is never alienating. Written primarily on piano, Alex Turner turned into a lounge lizard crooner seemingly overnight, borrowing liberally from the ornate arrangements of David Bowie's Hunky Dory and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Aggressively weird yet catchy and accessible, Arctic Monkeys shot for the moon and finessed an impressive landing.
12. Snail Mail
Some songwriters spend years aiming for the sort of lucidity Baltimore-based musician Lindsay Jordan effortlessly parades on Lush, her debut LP under her Snail Mail moniker. Jordan's layered, vivid power chords are heard in complete fidelity, the hooks presented with an informed ease, rejecting an unspoken notion that a 19 year-old could only write songs in a naïve and overtly poppy space.
Lyrically, it's a radiant navigation of the maze of youth, written entirely in first person. It all makes for a provocative listen, as the songs invite listeners into their intimate space before dazzling them with calculated, chiming guitars. It's all wonderfully ponderous and immersive, as Jordan blissfully raises characteristically rhetorical questions like, "Is there anything better than coming clean?" The answers don't matter; the feelings do.
Tirzah's Devotion is nothing if not alive — with all of life's jagged truth. It screeches and whoops; it ripples with ruminating piano loops; it chatters like aliens are crawling under its skin.
Tirzah's R&B-esque melisma floats and flutters here, warping words into pure lilt, making her written lyrics look cut short. What can't be put into words is how her singing skims and skitters up and around, how single syllables can last for whole breaths, rising and dipping like a hand swooping through the wind outside an open car window. Often here, auto-tune renders Tirzah's voice extraterrestrial as she accuses, betrays and yearns, but somehow, Devotion never feels in flux.
Check out the rest of our list, albums 10 through 1, here.