15. Soccer Mommy – Clean
Soccer Mommy is a curious phenomenon—an indie rocker with a clear fondness for Taylor Swift. Pleasingly rough around the edges, and with a knack for presenting complex emotions in a simple form, Soccer Mommy is going places.
Standout track: “Blossom”
14. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Though she’s been making music as U.S. Girls since 2007, Meghan Remy maintains a strong songwriting competence and a gift for fusing pure pop catchiness with political anger. This record is equal parts a dance party and a feminist protest, and for once in political music, those elements work together rather than counter to one another.
Standout track: “Pearly Gates”
13. Venetian Snares, Daniel Lanois – Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois
An experimental pedal-steel guitarist working with a breakcore producer? It’s a weird concept, to say the least, and it’s hard to imagine how it could really work. Indeed, it doesn’t quite work, in the sense of coherent songs coming together. However, this collaboration album sounds like nothing else out there. It’s a thoroughly thrilling listen, if not a fully satisfying one.
Standout track: “Mothors Pressroll P131”
12. Claptone – Fantast
More of a producer’s mixtape than a traditional album, Fantast is full of pop production on the technical level of Timbaland or the Neptunes (though more house and less hip-hop), but with a sense of palpable joy that sets Claptone apart as a wunderkind. Matching beats to guest vocalists with killer instinct, Fantast packs in jam after jam.
Standout track: “Animal”
11. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Gleefully feminine, unapologetically black, and defiantly queer, Janelle Monae has found her niche. Though the album is rather uneven, it boasts some incredible highs and acts as a powerful call to action.
Standout track: “Screwed”
10. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Cardi B is here to take over the world, and I for one am in favor. On her debut album, Cardi proves herself as a powerful and charismatic MC, delivering quips, putdowns, and personal stories with the absolute best. Though the production isn’t always great, it scarcely matters—Cardi B commands your attention throughout.
Standout track: “Be Careful”
9. Sarah Davachi – Let Night Come on Bells End the Day
Many overlook drone music as a curiosity—a simple exercise in theory, not a genre that can be truly engaging. Sarah Davachi proves this line of thought completely wrong with a masterpiece of mood, one that uses minimal drones to grand emotional effect. Equal parts stark and romantic, Let Night Come on Bells End the Day is moving in its stillness.
Standout track: “Hours in the Evening”
8. Iceage – Beyondless
Post-punk tends to be a moody affair, and while Beyondless is not entirely free of angst, the overriding feeling of the record is a gleeful criminality, a sense of reveling in chaos. 4 years removed from their last studio album, Iceage is here to party, and probably to hurt someone in the process.
Standout track: “Hurrah”
7. Andrew W.K. – You’re Not Alone
Speaking of partying, the king of the party is back this year with his first album in almost a decade, and his best yet. W.K. is as committed to the ideal of the capital-P Party as ever, but on You’re Not Alone, he channels that impulse through his motivational speaker side, bringing forth a record of uplifting philosophy delivered by way of stadium-rock maximalism.
Standout track: “The Devil’s on Your Side”
6. Snail Mail – Lush
In a similar vein as Soccer Mommy’s aforementioned debut, Lindsey Jordan’s first full-length as Snail Mail is heavily meditative with a good deal of cleverness. It’s indie rock in its most time-tested mode: lonely people singing for other lonely people. Snail Mail both pays tribute to indie’s past while forging its future.
Standout track: “Stick”
5. DJ Koze – Knock Knock
Aiming for a type of dance-transcendence akin to Daft Punk’s tremendous Random Access Memories, DJ Koze’s latest gets awful close. Lacking the star-powered guests of the aforementioned Daft Punk album, Knock Knock makes up for it with a much wider sonic palette and less devotion to its influences. Every track sounds earthshakingly important and yet somehow casual, as if Koze knows exactly what he’s doing and what it will accomplish. This is not a perfect album, but its ambition is up in the stars, and more often than not it lives up to it.
Standout track: “Illumination”
4. Czarface and MF DOOM – Czarface Meets Metal Face
MF DOOM, despite the GOAT status many afford him, went over a decade without releasing a truly great album. That changed this year, with 7L on the beats and Esoteric and Inspectah Deck joining DOOM on the mic. The legendary team-up brings out the best in all its participants, with DOOM’s gift for complex rhymes, Esoteric’s brilliant sense of humor, and Inspectah’s famously vicious delivery all coming together to create a legendary hip-hop party. This is rap with absolutely no pretense or ambition, just three phenomenal MCs having the time of their lives.
Standout track: “Bomb Thrown”
3. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
This is the best country album to chart in quite some time, and yet it makes no effort to turn the genre on its head. Musgraves is clearly reverent to figures like Carrie Underwood and Sheryl Crow, and yet she outpaces all of them with her lyrics, combining plainspoken honesty and casual wordplay, and with her voice, adapting to every song’s needs while still remaining distinctive. This is a pop-country album unashamed to be a pop-country album, and it’s how the genre can be redeemed.
Standout track: “Space Cowboy”
2. Shy Layers – Midnight Marker
“All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so,” wrote David Mitchell in his novel Cloud Atlas. This is an extremely pretentious quote to include in a music writeup, and yet it summarizes Shy Layers’ musical philosophy perfectly. Midnight Marker is less a genre fusion album, and more a genre-blind album. Shy Layers takes all sorts of world sounds and dance rhythms and uses them exactly as he pleases, with no reverence to any preconceived notions of style. The result is utterly captivating, bringing the listener into a whole new world. I was sad when it ended.
Standout track: “Lover’s Code”
- SOB x RBE – Gangin’
After a big break with an appearance on the Black Panther soundtrack, this Bay Area rap crew has come out with their phenomenal debut album. The four-man group shares a knack for pop hooks with recent wunderkinds BROCKHAMPTON, but where Kevin Abstract’s collective idolizes alt-rap artists like MIA and Tyler the Creator, SOB x RBE keeps one foot firmly in the realm of gangsta rap. The group maintains that genre’s energy and violent confidence while making jam after incredibly catchy jam, creating a sound both new and classic.
Standout track: “Carpoolin’”