Exclaim!'s Top 31 Albums of 2018 So Far

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Jun 18, 2018

In 2018, the monoculture has all but vanished. With the sheer volume of entertainment at our fingertips — music, movies, TV, videogames, comedy — there's less agreement than ever on what we should all be devouring in our free time. The result has been a rise in more niche arts and culture, a smorgasbord of under-the-radar artists and works that might not be household names, but are passionately supported by audiences who feel an intense connection to them.

Enter Exclaim!'s list of the year's best albums so far. Voted on by an array of contributors, it's a broad, varied list of albums from a mix of musicians that includes underground rap veterans, DIY pop artists and Top 40 country singers alike. Below, find Exclaim!'s Top 31 Albums of 2018 So Far.

31. Turnstile
Time & Space

The '90s referencing of Nonstop Feeling suggested tongue-in-cheek irony to those that didn't get it, but Turnstile have managed to make heads of all of us with their latest LP. In fact, the Baltimore 'coremen continued to prove that they're capable of the impossible by making a definitive hardcore full-length this year that reignited the spirit of the genre, while also marking a major label debut.

With Time & Space, they've managed to ramp up their reach without sacrificing any of their spirit; the result is a record that lives up to its ambitious title while remaining as down-to-Earth as a humble trip to the merch table.
Josiah Hughes

30. Skyzoo
In Celebration of Us
(First Generation Rich / Empire)

In an era of necessary political and social movements, Skyzoo, who has actively used his music to convey the tales of a black man's experience since his first release, has taken a moment to celebrate his existence — and that of his community — with the release of In Celebration of Us, a gritty soundscape narrated by longtime collaborators like !llmind and Apollo Brown.

In Skyzoo's own words, In Celebration of Us is "Ta-Nehisi Coates meets Chappelle's Show, The Autobiography of Malcolm X meets Black-ish, the case of Sandra Bland meets the birth of Air Jordans" — which really just amounts to being a necessary 15-track listen worthy of your full attention.
Erin Lowers

29. Illuminati Hotties
Kiss Yr Frenemies
(Tiny Engines)

Sarah Tudzin's divisively named Illuminati Hotties project started as a resumé of sorts. The music producer and Berklee College of Music graduate wanted a way to showcase her production skills, but soon found herself in the midst of an inspiration outburst. Soon, she'd collected enough material for a full-length album.

Kiss Yr Frenemies, according to Tudzin, crams "everything that's happy and sad and confusing about being in your early 20s" into 35 minutes that traverse the sonic spectrum, from sunny power pop on "(You're Better) Than Ever" to strings-infused balladry on "The Rules" to lo-fi, ramshackle bedroom pop on "boi." In the first 30 seconds alone of highlight "Pressed 2 Death," Tudzin crams in an irreverent "one, two, *fart noise*" count-in, huge cosmic guitar effects and girl group backup vocals; it's just one example of the plethora of ideas here that make Kiss Yr Frenemies one of 2018's best yet.
Stephen Carlick

28. Cancer Bats
The Spark That Moves
(Bat Skull/New Damage)

Cancer Bats dropped The Spark That Moves without warning, and it was a welcome surprise. The record pulls from multiple moments throughout the band's discography, touching on their last 13 years of music, but interweaving them into one album and executed with grace and sophistication.

The Spark That Moves maintains the band's signature blend of punk and metal the group have trademarked over the years, kicking into first gear on album opener "Gatekeeper" and keeping it there until the last sounds of "Winterpeg." Guitarist Scott Middleton plays a huge role on the album, using heavy riffs and a killer guitar tone to complement and provide flair to his writing. Intense and a ton of fun, The Spark That Moves showcases the individual talents of each member of Cancer Bats.
Ashton Clemmer

27. Mount Eerie
Now Only
(PW Elverum & Sun)

During the final days of March, while Toronto trudged through the remnants of a brutally infinite winter, Mount Eerie's Now Only became the soundtrack for a handful of my sombre, early morning commutes. My headphones created a tiny, soundproof bubble in which Washington State-based Phil Elverum and I, crammed amongst the strangers on the bus, would share a private, existential exchange.

Packaged as an experimental work of melodic spoken word embedded in unconventional songwriting, Elverum offers his audience a painfully intimate memoir outlining his relationship with life and death in the wake of his wife's passing. This may not be an album to have on repeat — it's not exactly easy listening — but whenever you require a sobering reminder of the fragile, fleeting nature of human existence, Now Only warrants another spin.
Ariel Matheson

26. DJ Koze
Knock Knock
(Pampa Records)

As the world descends into a pit of despair, you'd be forgiven for wanting to retreat into comfortable melancholy with an appropriately morose soundtrack. But Stefan Kozalla, aka DJ Koze, will have none of it.

His latest, Knock Knock, lets plenty of sunshine in across its sprawling, 80-minute runtime, but it's not so easily pinned down — his compositions sometimes alienate the listener with strident synth sequences that push the boundaries of congeniality, then pull it all back in a well-timed wobble or a stunning guest feature from a myriad of eclectic collaborators, including Roisin Murphy, Mano le Tough and Lambchop's Kurt Wagner.

That being said, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable and instantly replayable album released this year. Whether sitting alone contemplating the fate of humanity, or losing yourself on the dance floor under the stars, you'll find a perfect companion in the complex Knock Knock.
Scott Simpson

25. Frankie Cosmos
(Sub Pop)

Though Frankie Cosmos's third full-length, Vessel, marks the project's Sub Pop debut, the record retains the genuine warmth of their Bandcamp days. The 18-track opus finds Greta Kline taking a look within herself — analyzing emotions, relationships and her place in the world with razor-sharp wit and tenderness.

Opener "Caramelize" examines how someone who is painfully shy approaches human connection, as Kline softly croons "I want in on the other side / Of your eyelids where you hide." At 23, she exudes wisdom beyond her years, and turns her words into blunt-yet-poignant introspections. Kline's serene vocals are the focal point of each song, and the skilled band behind her push Frankie Cosmos's sound to new heights. When each member takes a turn singing the chorus on "Being Alive," their unity feels powerful.
Ava Muir

(Deathbomb Arc)

With Veteran, JPEGMAFIA (born Barrington Hendricks) doesn't take a side in current virtual culture warring so much as musically manifest what it feels like to be online in 2018. Akin to browsing a social media feed, the album is fragmented and frantic, full of moments alternately rewarding and repugnant. He firmly denounces the alt-right multiple times, while chiding bloggers, liberal arts majors and "you yuppies" of gentrified Brooklyn elsewhere. These bars, not unlike the internet, spare no one.

Veteran's ties to the web also show themselves in Hendricks' sardonic wit and lyrical skewers. "AR built like Lena Dunham / When I shoot I don't miss," he threatens on "Real Nega." There are songs titled "Libtard Anthem" and "I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies." "Fuck a Johnny Rotten, I want Lil B," Hendricks states in a singsong delivery on the latter, a nod to a precursor of his own internet-informed musical rebellion.
Calum Slingerland

23. MGMT
Little Dark Age

I thought I was just about finished with concept albums warning of the impending social media dystopia after last year's dangerously-close-to-preachy Everything Now and Pure Comedy. Yet somehow Little Dark Age manages to resemble those records without patronizing, by focusing just as much on the folly of the digital age as it does on seemingly trivial themes like platonic friendships and not wanting to exercise.

The record is hardly a call to action, and that's what makes it so compelling. Instead, it comes off as more like the nervous ramblings of two '80s art-pop and Gothic-obsessed men trying to find hope in today's darkness. Little Dark Age is a container for some of the weirdest pop songs of the year so far, and I wouldn't want anything else from MGMT.
Corey van den Hoogenband

22. Amen Dunes
(Sacred Bones)

For nearly a decade, Damon McMahon has been crafting deeply introspective songs with his project Amen Dunes. Shrouded in a haze of lo-fi production and stubbornly simple songwriting, they never found much of an audience.

But with Freedom, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter pulls back the curtain, offering his most personal, sparse and universally appealing album to date, thanks to a cast of characters that feel foreign yet familiar and production from Chris Coady (Beach House, Slowdive) that allows his arrangements to soar to new heights.

A fan of electronic acts like Massive Attack, as well as classic wordsmiths like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, McMahon channels the cinematic grandeur of the former with the meaningful sentiments of the latter to create a future classic that tackles generational addiction ("Skipping School"), bigoted conmen ("Mika Dora") and death ("Believe").

Few records sound as sombre, yet reservedly hopeful, in 2018 as Freedom — it's a modern American masterpiece.
Matthew Ritchie

21. Hop Along
Bark Your Head Off, Dog
(Saddle Creek)

The going line about Philly indie folk-punk quartet Hop Along is that they're a band built around Frances Quinlan's uniquely ferocious voice. While the act's previous material easily fit that description, their fourth album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, marks a compositional departure. These songs are Quinlan's most polished to date, and many of them shift gears and build to sugary codas when you least expect it — shaping themselves in a way that frames the storytelling rather than following it.

As a result, the controlled chaos of Quinlan's vocals is more restrained in the service of exceptionally precise, complexly produced songs. Often tightly wound in symbolism, Quinlan's lyrics create self-contained worlds that connect more broadly when they break into simple refrains. "I don't know why I'm so mean each time I come to visit," she confesses on "Somewhere a Judge." It's an intimate thought that feels universal in its hooky presentation — an emotional power the band nail throughout.
Trev Smith

20. Jeremy Dutcher
Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa

There's literally nothing else out there like Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. On Jeremy Dutcher's debut album, the Indigenous opera singer has taken archival recordings of his ancestors singing traditional Wolastoqiyik songs and used them as the basis of new orchestral compositions. The original recordings are incorporated into the new recordings in myriad ways, often allowing Dutcher to duet with his ancestors, providing context as well as unique elements flawlessly integrated into the modern works. Dutcher's mission to reunite the Wolastoqiyik — and the world at large — with songs and language on the verge of extinction is flawlessly executed here.

Beautiful conceit aside, the songs stand on their own as rich neo-classical compositions, anchored by Dutcher's booming tenor. Rich with meaning and orchestral texture, they effectively incorporate elements of pop, jazz and opera. It's an educational and innovative debut that showcases Dutcher's powerful voice, both literally and figuratively.
Matt Bobkin

19. Courtney Barnett
Tell Me How You Really Feel
(Mom + Pop)

Courtney Barnett's latest offering is quieter and more subdued than her earlier releases, but what it lacks in angsty venom, it more than makes up for in searing self-confidence.

Stylistically, Tell Me How You Really Feel is pretty diverse. The overarching aesthetic is Barnett's signature deadpan grunge, but individual tracks range from dark and brooding ("Help Your Self") to raucous and almost anthemic ("Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence").

With backing vocals provided by alt-rock royalty Kim and Kelley Deal, and an experienced band of extremely talented musicians playing the current world tour, this could be her biggest and most self-assured release yet.

Tell Me How You Really Feel manages to be both lyrically self-reflexive and subtly political. In one breath, she offers morbid life advice and self-help ("You know it's okay / To have a bad day") and in the next she fulminates against men's violence against women. In many ways, it feels like a collection of ballads for our troubled times.
Emily Corley

18. Nils Frahm
All Melody
(Profound Lore)

While most albums can be called a labour of love, All Melody is a project that borders on obsession. Created in Frahm's custom-built studio in the historic Funkhaus — a 1950s-era recording complex in former East Berlin — All Melody is an intricate, at times sombre record that transforms into a study of atmosphere, of process.

From classical, meandering piano ballads to staccato compositions that transform into brass marimba halfway through, Frahm's album is a shape-shifting exploration of, well, all melody. Intimate and grandiose in equal measure, All Melody is the kind of album that allows listeners to delve a bit further into Frahm's impressive mind.
Courtney Baird-Lew

17. Kali Uchis

"Now I'm packing all my bags and I am leaving it behind," Kali Uchis croons on "Body Language," the brisk intro to her debut. It's the first of many escape attempts on Isolation — apt for a songwriter who refuses to be confined to one genre. From the retro-soul fatalism of "Flight 22" to the faux-carefree electro-pop of "In My Dreams," the Colombian-American singer and her talented roster of collaborators dart through an eclectic array of moods and styles.

This versatility could border on flightiness for other artists, but Uchis knows when to stand her ground. "Just a Stranger" and "Your Teeth In My Neck" are assertive R&B kiss-offs to those who seek to judge or profit from her, while "Miami" twists her mercurial streak into an empowering origin story. It can be tempting to play it safe in times of upheaval, but on Isolation, Uchis harnesses chaos to make something indelibly personal.
Matthew Blenkarn

16. Arctic Monkeys
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

While writing the new Arctic Monkeys album, singer Alex Turner dubbed his makeshift basement studio the "Lunar Surface," after the conspiracy theory that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing. He took that theory and blasted off into his own celestial exploration — and apparently there's no garage-rock in space.

The result of that exercise is Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a sprawling, mid-century lounge jazz space opera with lush production and a hint of classic Monkeys edge. The album is still rife with Turner's signature wit and snark, but it's packaged differently; at one point he sings "I launch a fragrance called Integrity, I sell the fact that I can't be bought."

Sonically, there's very little in the way of pummelling punk rock. Instead, the guitars are spacious and open. The reinvention is startling, maybe even alienating, but if you're open to an album of luxurious, lunar lounge, you'll dig Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
Brandon Choghri

15. Shame
Songs of Praise
(Dead Oceans)

South Londoners Shame released their debut record in January to critical acclaim; the collection of sharp-tongued post-punk presented them as a fully formed group.

Comprised of tracks the band honed during their years on the road, Songs of Praise balances social commentary with vigorous, insistent delivery. The band have a handle on balancing melody and abrasion, as evidenced on the glorious, riff-laden "Tasteless." Each member plays with a heightened awareness of the others; they know just when to unleash their full, heavy energy.

Vocalist Charlie Steen is a highly engaging lyricist, posing necessary questions such as "Do you detach from necessity and apply the act of greed?" on album highlight, "Friction." Elsewhere, the album's tender closer, "Angie," and the sleazy storytelling of "Gold Hole" explore the group's dynamic range. Shame are just getting started and have already set a high standard for themselves.
Anna Alger

14. A.A.L (Against All Logic)
2012 - 2017
(Other People)

Mysteriously uploaded to the internet earlier this year under a pseudonym, 2012 – 2017 was a surprise release. But for those familiar with the work of Nicolas Jaar, it was also a surprising release.

The Chilean-American producer has mostly been focusing on heady experimental electronic for the last few years, but this collection of tracks, released under the name A.A.L (Against All Logic), is a celebration of old-school dance music, pulling together an avalanche of vintage soul, disco, house and R&B. Using a simple blueprint, while keeping rhythms buoyant and melodies repetitive, Jaar has released a left-field classic dance album that's nuanced and heady at the same time. Perhaps he should have adopted the moniker Against All Expectations.
Daniel Sylvester

13. Sleep
The Sciences
(Third Man Records)

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: Sleep's first album in 14 years arrived this 4/20 without warning and without precedent. Not since Electric Wizard released Dopethrone has the awesome power of Black Sabbath-inspired stoner metal been cranked up to 11 like this. The rolling waves of mammoth distortion that propel songs like "The Botanist," "Giza Butler" and "Sonic Titan" sound less like music, and more like an extended experiment about whether or not Matt Pike's audio THC tone can cause tidal shifts.

The Sciences reaffirms Sleep's place at the very top of heavy rock's pantheon, despite the band now being in their mid-40s. It's enough to make you want to drop out of life (with bong in hand) all over again.
Max Morin

12. Royce 5'9"
Book of Ryan

With his breakneck cadence, dense wordplay and quiet confidence, it's a given that Royce 5'9" is one of the most technically proficient rappers of his time. But on his autobiographical Book of Ryan, Royce showcases true artistry in addition to skill.

Building on his triumphant album Layers, Royce blends lyrical prowess with cinematic storytelling to deliver an immersive and deeply courageous effort. He's a gifted narrator with a knack for maintaining balance: he explores his life's most painful moments without venturing into self-pity; he's candid about his challenges and inner demons, but puts as much care into highlighting his triumphs. That equilibrium keeps Book of Ryan honest, and distinguishes it from other artist's attempts at soul-baring. It's a defining work in Royce's stellar career, and one of 2018's best yet.
A. Harmony

11. Car Seat Headrest
Twin Fantasy

Back when Will Toledo was a teenage Bandcamp wunderkind, his no-fi 2011 album Twin Fantasy became a cult fave. Now with a full band and access to professional studios, he's rerecorded the entire thing and given these towering songs the touch-ups they deserve.

The arrangements are epic and ambitious, consisting of suites that sometimes sprawl well past the ten-minute mark, but the economical, guitar-focused instrumentation keeps them from ever sounding fussy. With lyrics that document a fraught relationship (and are apparently based on true events), it all adds up to over 70 minutes of poignant longing and glorious hooks. Seven years since these songs were first written, they sound as urgent as ever.
Alex Hudson

10. Soccer Mommy
(Fat Possum)

With her first proper full-length album release, Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison) graduated out of the Bandcamp bedroom scene this past February.

Clean seemingly revolves around the pain associated with infatuation, but Allison's plainspoken yet poetic lyrics, accompanied by minimalist yet sweet guitar riffs, transcend coming-of-age clichés. Allison's music is about more than just adolescent lust; it's about the lingering feeling of inadequacy, the futility of unrequited love and the struggle of loving the wrong person.

Clean is painfully relatable, and has the intimacy of a live show. It's the kind of album that invites you to just sit in the sadness, but assures you that you're not alone.
Beth Bowles

9. Beach House
(Sub Pop)

There's a moment halfway through "Dive," on Beach House's new album 7, where the familiar amorphous haze abruptly concedes space to monumental pillars of spiralling guitar and drums, trembling and triumphant. Similarly, the palpitating beats on "Black Car" evoke a visceral resonance while the twinkling synth seduces out-of-body numbness with quivering emotional tremors. That tension, between deep bodily responses and mind-based desires and perceptions, has long defined Beach House's work, and it's what makes them one of the most venerable bands of this century.

Throughout 7, the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally sound grander and more industrious than ever before, further exploring the dark corners of their near-perfect rendering of dream pop. Off-white hymnal tones drape over Legrand's wispy French-spoken chants on "L'Inconnue," while "Lemon Glow" features an assertive, quivering riff accompanied by cavernous squeals and shadowy throbs. Seven albums in, the power of Beach House is still gaining momentum as they continue to surprise with their consistency and subtle reinvention.
Chris Gee

8. Jennifer Castle
Angels of Death
(Idée Fixe)

Her earlier albums indicated that Jennifer Castle was an adventurous singer-songwriter with real potential; that has now been fully realized with her fifth album, Angels of Death, a tour de force defined by its poetic power.

As the portentous title suggests, Castle tackles weighty themes here, probing mortality and sorrow. She does this via her achingly pure voice and lyrical eloquence, assisted by varied and atmospheric instrumentation. There are enough subtle touches to keep things interesting, like the doo-wop backing vocals on the gentle country tune "Texas." Harmony vocals add heft to the sombre piano ballad "Crying Shame," while strings are used sparingly and judiciously throughout; the production work of Castle and co-producer Jeff McMurrich is clean and concise.

On "Rose Waterfalls," Castle notes that she is "living with the muses all around me." Long may they keep visiting her.
Kerry Doole

7. Kacey Musgraves
Golden Hour
(MCA Nashville)

While A Very Kacey Christmas was well-received, Kacey Musgraves releasing a Christmas album so early into her career raised some red flags — seasonal albums tend to be contractual obligations, cash-ins, artistic dead ends, or all three at once.

In retrospect, the great leap forward that is Golden Hour suggests that the holiday comp was just what Musgraves needed to recharge her creative batteries. Nominally a country album, Golden Hour strays further from the genre's conventions than previous Musgraves LPs, and finds the singer embracing lush keyboards, vocoder-assisted backing vocals ("Oh, What A World"), Bee Gees harmonies ("Happy & Sad") and even disco beats. You can still find looping banjos as well the occasional pedal steel guitar in the mix, and closer "Rainbow" recalls the '70s country-rock of the Eagles, but on Golden Hour, Musgraves' fundamentally classicist songwriting is dressed up in a subtly forward-thinking, state-of-the-art production sheen that reaches a blissful, glittery Xanadu on the effervescent "High Horse."
Thierry Côté

6. T.D.E./Kendrick Lamar
Black Panther: The Album

The African diaspora that the film Black Panther celebrates is, of course, vast, and it prompted Kendrick Lamar to supply an original soundtrack that is every bit as wide-ranging.

Indeed, these 14 tracks feature SZA and the Weeknd's radio-ready style of R&B; Johannesburg artist Sjava singing in soothing isiZulu on "Seasons"; Babes Wodumo repping the sweltering gqom strain of house music from her native Durban on "Redemption"; and everything in between.

The soundtrack's eclecticism is a testament to Lamar's strengths as a co-executive producer and curator. Like Black Panther's director, Ryan Coogler, Pulitzer Kenny brought an auteurist vision to the soundtrack and carefully cast the right performer for each role. It's an LP that brings the best out of established stars while also offering limelight to astounding African acts that more than deserve a wider global audience. As you listen, you'll feel — to paraphrase the indelible SZA's verses on this essential LP — like all the stars are approaching you.
Kyle Mullin

5. Janelle Monáe
Dirty Computer
(Wondaland Records)

In her cover story in Rolling Stone in May, Janelle Monáe cleared up any speculation about her sexuality by telling the world she identifies as pansexual and characterizing herself as "a free-ass motherfucker."

Monáe's third LP Dirty Computer is a celebration of being just that: free. "Just let me live my life," she sings on early standout "Crazy, Classic, Life." Including contributions from Prince — he was working with Monáe on the record before his sudden passing — and collaborations with Grimes, Brian Wilson and Pharrell Williams, Dirty Computer is a kaleidoscopic pop record. Monáe struts her way through sultry grooves and thick, spellbinding beats while exploring identity dimensions like race, gender and sexuality.

Dirty Computer is a middle-finger at haters, but it's also a sexy and fun record that's a party for everyone who can relate to and is inspired by Monáe.
Laura Stanley

4. Pusha-T
(G.O.O.D. Music)

Devoid of filler, Pusha-T's purest solo serving wastes not a second of its distilled 21-minute runtime on a meh beat or soft couplet. A two-expert exercise in precision, sole/soul producer Kanye West caters his hard snares and ripe samples for Pusha's coke and dough poems.

The dirty guitar licks on "The Games We Play" will scrunch your face. The Mighty Hannibal's bluesy wails of "Come Back Baby" temporarily warm you between our host's icy slick talk: "They tired of dancing like a Ying Yang Twin." And closer "Infrared" is a laser-point dismantling of your girl's favourite rapper, Drake.

Daytona has no patience for subliminals. It demolishes targets and leaves you craving more carnage. Of all three seven-track G.O.O.D. Music projects dropped this spring, Daytona features the sharpest writing and the smartest execution. Yeughck!
Luke Fox

3. J. Cole
(Dreamville/Roc Nation)

J. Cole's brilliantly self-aware and mature KOD album stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best albums of 2018 so far. At once a disapproving finger-wagging at hip-hop's frivolous obsessions with everything but the things that actually matter, and an open book look at the effects addiction has had in his own life, the LP is a satisfying jazzy romp through shadowy realness.

Without question, the album's most talked about songs — and rightly so — came in the form of "1985 (Intro to 'The Fall Off')," an OG take on the younger generation of artists and a (casually) savage fatherly advice session that many fans hypothesized was squarely aimed at Lil Pump. If nothing else, the song provided an entry point for a marginalized base of listeners who tend to find an LP with this much real-life perspective corny.

A masterfully cohesive body of work, it continues Cole's streak of winning without any features — assuming you don't count kiLL edward.
Riley Wallace

2. Cardi B
Invasion of Privacy

Love her or hate her, Cardi B became one of the most talked-about artists last year, even knocking Taylor Swift out of the top spot on the Billboard 200 with her breakout "Bodak Yellow." The single was released more than a year before Invasion of Privacy finally arrived, so expectations for the Bronx rapper's debut album were almost unfairly high.

Luckily, Cardi more than lived up to the hype. The record blasts off with the blistering autobiographical "Get Up 10," which hears a fists-up Cardi defending her past as a stripper and her surgically enhanced body, proving that neither have hindered her efficiency as a rapper or her value as a human being. Cardi gives us flashy guest features from the likes of Migos, Chance the Rapper, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, Kehlani, 21 Savage, YG and SZA, but none of them manage to outshine Cardi's undeniable star power.

Invasion of Privacy delivers bravado-filled bangers like "Drip," "I Like It" and "Money Bag," but equally successful are the record's more vulnerable moments, like the it's-not-a-threat-it's-a-warning to cheaters "Be Careful" and the similarly themed "Thru Your Phone." Ultimately, the album channels Cardi's anger, drive, swagger and insecurity into a perfect rap-pop crossover that lets us invade Belcalis Almanzar's privacy enough to get a glimpse at the honest personality behind her cartoonish image.
Sarah Murphy

1. U.S. Girls
In a Poem Unlimited
(Royal Mountain)

Political pop music is having a moment. On the one hand, citizens of the West are finding themselves living under the thumb of increasingly authoritarian governments; on the other, we're seeing a wellspring of pointed political and social critiques bubbling up in the most mainstream avenues.

Into this fray comes In a Poem Unlimited, the latest from Meg Remy's U.S. Girls project. Far and away the most accessible record of her career, its R&B and disco grooves mask the violence, anger and anxiety at the album's heart. Yet the record is neither didactic, nor nostalgic; Remy has become a master of show-don't-tell, able not only to tell a story but to subvert expectations within one.

Helping to deliver these tales are a host of Toronto friends and family. Slim Twig, Young Guv and members of Ice Cream and Tropics, among many others, all contribute, imbuing each song with an us-versus-them aesthetic. Even when Remy is detailing the gruesome murder of a violent lover, you can't help but marvel at the sense of community that was as the core of the record's creation.

Wrapped in funky rhythms and no-wave dissonance, In a Poem Unlimited is a cathartic sugar rush. In a perfect world, it wouldn't need to exist. But perfect it is not, and as such, it's an utter necessity.
Ian Gormely

Latest Coverage