Exclaim!'s Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part Two Best of 2018
Published Dec 05, 2018
5. Fucked Up
Dose Your Dreams
(Arts & Crafts/Merge)
For about as long as Fucked Up have existed, the Toronto band have strived to push the boundaries of what punk music is and what it can be. Implausibly, their fifth record is possibly their most visionary and pulse-raising record to date — but almost definitely their most fun.
For a band with a history of expansive, exploratory rock operas, to outdo themselves is no easy feat, but after having already made one de-facto magnum opus, David Comes to Life, they decided to make another one. The result is maximalist art-rock that assembles a mishmash of genres and sounds, with the common thread being the search for creative bliss. Radical, ambitious and complex, it's a weird and wild prog-punk odyssey that can hang with the likes of similar-minded touchstones The Shape of Punk to Come and Relationship of Command.
4. Beach House
Beach House have been slowly refining and further exploring their dream pop sounds for over a decade now, and while it has some of music's vibe-thirsty artists taking notice, the duo found room for some successful experimentation with this year's 7. In an essay, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally wrote that 7 concerns "the beauty that arises in dealing with darkness" in a thematic sense — and its sounds feel expertly matched.
It's apparent from the opening drum fill of "Dark Spring," whose many layers are juxtaposed expertly by the loving lilt of "Pay No Mind." Darkness and light are further set against one another when the hopeful glow of "L'Inconnue" shifts to the stark "Drunk in L.A.," while the pummelling climax of "Dive" is set against the uneasy "Black Car."
Though Legrand told Exclaim! earlier this year that "the older we get, the less of a fuck we give," 7 is refreshing, resonant, and heaps more than an effortless rehash.
Be the Cowboy
Mitski's last album — the acclaimed Puberty 2 — was steeped in roiling emotion and softly pulsating vulnerability. Bouncing from distorted guitar riffs to short, punk-infused tracks, to tender, dreamy pop, it found Mitski at her best — that is, until this year.
On Be the Cowboy, Mitski once again tackled the complex themes of love, loss, loneliness and isolation, but this time she stripped each element to its core. Her compositions here are sharper, her clear voice is more confident and her lyrics are even more searing as she grapples simultaneously with unrelenting imposter syndrome and being thrust into a newfound life of fame and sold-out tours.
On "Remember My Name," she explains how she "gave too much of my heart tonight; can you come to where I'm staying and make some extra love that I can save till tomorrow's show?" The reverberating "Blue Light," meanwhile, sees her "going crazy, walking 'round the house naked." On the country-infused "Lonesome Love," she explains how "nobody butters me up like you, and nobody fucks me like me," while the album's heaviest track, "A Pearl," is an ode to inescapable toxic relationships.
With all 14 songs coming in at just 32 minutes, Mitski wastes no time getting to the point. Rousing and brilliantly produced, Be the Cowboy is a deeply personal album that taps into the universal human condition.
If anyone knows that love is hard work, it's Robyn. On 2010's Body Talk, she danced on her own; worked at being indestructible; and urged us to undergo the hard task of calling one's significant other, to be honest without being cruel — difficult stuff, certainly, but that record's sweeping, disco ball-lit production helped make triumphant dance floor anthems out of those complex emotions. On Honey, the moments of thumping, four-on-the-floor ecstasy are fewer and further between, but though the last eight years have been hard on her — she both lost a close friend and navigated a tumultuous breakup — Robyn has far from given up on love.
Both sonically and lyrically, Honey is closer, more intimate. The production, elegant but sparse, is pared down here, and the cast is too: there are no girlfriends, no "he" or "she" to be found on Honey; only "I" and "me" and "you." Here, Robyn makes the universal feel specific and vice-versa, all by freezing and isolating intimate moments and sentiments between yous and Is: one's fading scent on a pillow on "Missing U"; a shared memory captured and evoked forever by a song on "Because It's in the Music"; the way a text can make one's heart jump on "Between the Lines."
Wiser and a little world-wearier than its predecessor, Honey is a moving yet unsentimental set of communications, a realist's take on the ongoing importance of love in a world that urgently needs it. "If you got somebody to love," she sings gently but urgently on "Send to Robyn Immediately," "give that love today."
1. U.S. Girls
In a Poem Unlimited
Our dystopian modern times didn't just emerge from a cloud of Cheeto dust and right-wing populism a few years ago. Meg Remy would know: the Toronto-based artist has been railing against patriarchy and socio-political tension for over a decade as U.S. Girls. It was only a matter of time before her incendiary brand of avant-pop collided with the zeitgeist.
And what a collision it was. In a Poem Unlimited finds Remy and her many collaborators making dance music for these apocalyptic times, setting Remy's scorched storytelling to globs of disco and funk. It gives U.S. Girls' typically rambling, abrasive sound a groove-laden makeover, keeping the cacophony but trading in the loops and lo-fi production for saxophones and studio slickness.
It all serves to highlight Remy's strong lyrical voice as she weaves resonant, high-concept narratives through the urgent, intricate instrumentation. "Pearly Gates" imagines a predatory Saint Peter assaulting young women at the gates of heaven, and there are bipartisan grievances she's tackling on here too — lead single "Mad as Hell" tackles the discrepancy between Barack Obama's jovial public image and predilection for drone strikes.
While many pop artists are only now trying to channel the paranoia and frustration that permeates today's fraught climate, Remy's been on the front lines for well over a decade. Now that the world has finally caught up, for better or worse, In a Poem Unlimited is the rally cry we need — Remy and co. have been gracious enough to lend us all a helping hand, with nary a hint of "I told you so."