Sunday, January 6, 2019

the top 25 best albums of 2018

Normally this is the list that feels like the greatest relief to make - it's the final moment where we can lay a year to rest chronicling the best of the best, the sort of release that comes with it being the last list but also one that feels the most professional, for lack of better words. I'm having fun with the lists of the best and worst hits, I'm getting more personal with the overall songs list - this list for critics is staking claim, drawing our lines in the sand, and as such, it's normally the most professionally rewarding.

But I have to say, in comparison to previous years, this list was not that hard to make. Even though I covered far more albums in 2018 than ever before, it felt like I hit greatness less often on average. Which is probably not completely true, but it sure as hell feels like it, especially given that the cuts weren't that painful this year, or it certainly seemed like there was less of them to make. And while I don't do an Honourable Mentions segment for this list, I will say I'm a little regretful that I have to leave Rolo Tomassi and Against All Logic off this list, and I'm sure I'm going to surprise some folks by saying that Beach House and Kacey Musgraves also missed the cut - sorry, but especially in country, Kacey had stiffer competition. But really, if we're to highlight a genre that turned out in spades in 2018, it was hip-hop - and no jokes here, this is more hip-hop on this albums list than I think there has ever been before... which yes, means that there were two painful cuts in the form of Marlowe and Armand Hammer. But you know, let's start off with hip-hop here...

25. The first two albums on this list are comebacks, so to speak, both from acts that took long absences and have returned with renewed focus and verve. And this one in particular shines all the brighter because of it, especially as he seems all the more conscious of his absence, but is going to make sure it was all worth the wait.

25. 'No News Is Good News' by Phonte
Best Song: 'So Help Me God'

It seems like for a lot of folks, Phonte's No News Is Good News flew under the radar, and I'll admit that frustrates me... but doesn't surprise me. Mostly because Phonte is making cool music that's not exactly trendy - the terms most thrown around is 'grown-man' hip-hop, that's a little older, a lot wiser, and willing to embrace old school grooves and bars while still sounding very much contemporary. It's a brisk listen, and by the time you reach its end you can be thrown off by how much maturity and insight he's managed to wedge between the lines when he makes it sound so damn easy, but for something that goes down this smooth, it's hard to ignore how infectious it is. Mark my words, in twenty years there's going to be a whole lot of older hip-hop critics and fans enshrining this as an overlooked classic, and when it's this good, I want to be on the right side of history.

24. If you had told me five years ago that this band was going to make my list with this change in trajectory, I'm not sure I would have believed you, even if you had told me their collaborator whose influence definitely lingers over the entire project. But having heard it now... yeah, there's no room for me to complain when it's this good.

I can make a credible argument that Little Dark Age is MGMT's best album - yes, better than Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations, both solid but top-heavy in favour of their singles where the pop focus came into view. But that's the point: those albums were only glimpses at it, whereas Little Dark Age embraces the gothic, fleshy weirdness of Ariel Pink's brand of music for a lot of welcome texture to accent the pop focus, which is now at the core where it always belonged! It's an album that's taken the weird collegiate psychedelia of previous albums and buries it in a post-grad morass that's willing to look and sound murky and unstable in the best possible way. It's absolutely a pivot, and I know it won't be for everyone, but for MGMT, finally playing to their strengths was the best possible decision.

24. 'Little Dark Age' by MGMT
Best Song: 'Little Dark Age'

23. It feels strange putting what some might brand an EP on this list... granted, it's longer than projects that were deemed full albums that also will make this list, and when the bars are this good, who can complain?

23. 'Season 1' by Epic Beard Men
Best Song: 'Shotgun Golf'

I've already talked about this project at length and it kind of feels like I was one of the only ones shouting its praise - it should be so much bigger than it is! Sage Francis and B. Dolan have the sort of intellectual chemistry, activist fervor, and sheer creativity that make them natural friends and great personalities opposite each other on the mic, and Season 1 takes the independent hustle, infuses it with retro glitch and alien synths, and a revolutionary spirit that absolutely felt need in 2018! This was only the primer for a full-length album dropping in 2019, and you're out of excuses to not get on-board!

22. So one thing you might notice on this list is that my taste are starting to skew a little... older, for lack of better words. I'd argue I've always kind of done so - at heart, I'm a country guy, and the best stuff in that genre can definitely lean on an older demographic - but like with Phonte, if we're looking for the sort of project that'll remain powerful and heavy in ten or twenty years... that also happens to be a comeback...

22. 'Interstate Gospel' by Pistol Annies
Best Song: 'Best Years Of My Life'

Look, in damn near any given year the Pistol Annies have a shot for my year-end lists, the sheer pool of talent is too great to be denied. And with Interstate Gospel ditching much of the theatrics for an older, world-weary sense of maturity that moved subtext into the text for a more expansive and strikingly dark listen, all three women prove they are the forces to be reckoned with in country even if Nashville and Music Row are too much of cowards to put them on the radio. The writing is top notch, the harmonies are striking, their band has never sounded better in its embrace of more lush country textures and a warm, burnished atmosphere, and with gutpunches of performance and content that seem to go on for days, Interstate Gospel is the best sort of return to form we could get, and one that absolutely deserves real attention.

21. But if we were to shift back to the topic of riotous music that was just the balm I needed for uncertain times...

21. 'Sister Cities' by The Wonder Years
Best Song: 'Sister Cities'

The Wonder Years lost a fair amount of fans this year with Sister Cities, taking a cautious step away from pop punk in order to embrace darker swells of atmosphere and a more somber, alternative rock vibe. And yet while I'm not sure they managed to top 2011's Suburbia - which remains my personal favourite of their albums - Sister Cities grabbed a hold of my psyche and didn't let go, an album that dives headfirst into the storm and is darker than ever, but that lets its sense of optimism and hope shine through all the brighter. It's absolutely a shift in sound and I'm not normally the one to praise a band for moving away from punk in order to embrace "maturity" - punks can be mature too, folks - but when it kicks this much ass, I'm not about to complain! Definitely underrated by too many people, check this out!

20. But for as much as I've highlighted and celebrated music with a sense of maturity on this list thus far, I wouldn't say it's universal. Sometimes the kids know it's very much not alright, and even if they're smuggling the message under the radar, we should be listening.

20. 'FM!' by Vince Staples
Best Song: 'Feels Like Summer'

Full disclosure, this was the project that won me over on Vince Staples as the sort of artist that deserves far more serious scrutiny and conversation beyond just highlighting how much it bangs - which of course this does with an undeniable west coast flavor, but there's so much more going on! It's an album that simulates the desensitizing effect of mainstream radio glossing over the nameless men caught in the street's carnage. And what's so ingenious about it is how Vince never shows his hand, a summer record released in November to drive its bloody hammer home as he adds a chilling critique to those seeking to profit off the paranoia and violence in black communities for a predominantly white audience, all with a veneer of disposability that Vince is too much of a brutal realist to dispel. Barely an inch of waste, this is Vince Staples bringing his ear for detail with crushing precision - again, this was underrated by entirely too many, you need to hear it!

19. And while we're on the west coast, let's flip to a very different sound...

19. 'Weather Or Not' by Evidence
Best Song: 'Powder Cocaine'

Evidence's Weather Or Not was one of the first albums I praised to hell and back in 2018 and as the conclusion of the Weatherman trilogy it was absolutely worth the wait. Delivering a flavour of meditative, sample-heavy west coast boom-bap overflowing with measured control, distinctive tastes, and an impressive modesty, along with some fantastic guest verses and a remarkable sense of cohesion, Weather Or Not is hip-hop for contemplation and a refined taste, hard enough to entrench his lane but with songs like 'Powder Cocaine' and 'By My Side Too' shows the power he can find stepping outside of it. I've been a fan of Evidence for years now, and be it solo or with Dilated Peoples, this might be one of his best to date - definitely slept on throughout 2018, check it out!

18. Of course, there's stability and understanding one's foundation... and then there's a group that had to deal with nearly all of that ripped out from beneath them. And yet by some miracle, BROCKHAMPTON pulled it together, and delivered their best album to date.

18. 'iridescence' by BROCKHAMPTON
Best Song: 'SAN MARCOS'

Yes, you heard me correctly: Iridescence is absolutely BROCKHAMPTON at their best, mostly because it takes them just far enough out of the comfort zone to zoom in on the angst, insecurities, and give their bangers a sense of real stakes. There was always a more raw side to every member of the group going back to the Saturation trilogy, but Iridescence rips away veneers to show the band at their most diverse but their most refined, using a major label budget to enhance and expand their sound but also highlight how precarious it all can be. And while it might not be quite as overstuffed with bangers as that trilogy, it's trades a few for expanded nuance and genuine pathos that won me over on these guys even more than the live show I caught this year. This is an album where BROCKHAMPTON was taken to the brink - I want to see where they go from here.

17. So I've already highlighted a few comebacks on this list, but there's two types of comebacks: the long absences from the spotlight, and the cases where the band may have gone down a path that might not flatter them but choose to then yank things back in line. And with this project, thank god Poets Of The Fall did the latter.

17. 'Ultraviolet' by Poets Of The Fall
Best Song: 'Fool's Paradise'

Look, by the standards of Poets Of The Fall, I'd probably call this a mid-tier release - and the fact that it's still one of the best albums of 2018 is absolutely proof this band deserves so much more attention. And while the most praise needs to be directed at the band for reclaiming production control, Ultraviolet takes its increased pop focus on melody and more diverse instrumentation to the sort of soaring heights than only they can. I've already talked about 'Fool's Paradise' on a different list as one of their best ever songs, but Ultraviolet is chock-full of huge hooks, better writing than they're often given credit, and frontman Marko Saaresto once again sounding incredible. So glad this band is back in form... maybe we can get a bit more of the metal or hard rock side to come back in, and we'll get a true classic here!

16. And back to hip-hop again... but you know what, for a record that was able to set off a firestorm and proved central to one of the biggest stories in the culture all year, and with the benefit of time to not feel dated or time-locked and still remain a kickass album...

16. 'DAYTONA' by Pusha-T
Best Song: 'Hard Piano'

So I'll be the first to agree that this album is probably getting overpraised in some quarters of hip-hop: it's a damn great album, but it's not the best hip-hop of 2018. But I can make the argument it's among the most pure: there's no fat here, Kanye delivering some of his best sample-driven production and then sadly delivering a verse that holds this album back from embodying the best of this year, and then there's Pusha-T continuing to rise above his contemporaries with some of the tightest bars of his entire career. And what continues to place him above so many of his peers in this brand of gangsta rap is while they can paint a picture, Pusha-T knows how to shade it with nuance and a sense of very real danger to show the emotional toll and scars such a life can inflict. Couple it with the best Rick Ross verse in years - seriously, Push, cut an EP or something with Ross, you bring out the absolute best side of him - we have seven songs of pure adrenaline that from all of Kanye's experiments will definitely stand as the most shining example.

15. This is an album I think is being both overlooked and underanalyzed - mostly because the more you dig, the most unsettling and heartbreaking the picture becomes. And yet for as much as Josh Tillman has embraced deconstruction, it takes a real sense of daring to bring it all home to roost.

15. 'God's Favorite Customer' by Father John Misty
Best Song: 'Mr. Tillman'

Forget the theories surrounding the sin lurking at this album's heart, the secret that Tillman has never revealed only because the album spells out enough to give the clues, the fact that this album manages to stick the landing at all should be the real marvel! This is the most oblique and abstract Father John Misty has ever been, against production and vibes designed to unsettle and alienate, with exposed fractures and obfuscation that only makes its tragedy cut harder. And while I won't say my unsteady love for this project is entirely rooted in an intoxicated and entirely too relatable setting, it sure as hell helped. In other words, while God's Favorite Customer will probably be seen as an anomaly in Tillman's discography, not as good as I Love You, Honeybear or possessing the scope of Pure Comedy... well, to quote the artist who came behind him on this list, 'if you know you know'. And I think six months later, I know - goddamn it, Josh...

14. It would be very easy for me to plug this album into the comeback narrative of this list that was true for Pistol Annies and Phonte and Poets Of The Fall and MGMT... but the truth is that if you heard Emily Haines' brilliant album last year, you knew this was coming.

14. 'Art Of Doubt' by Metric
Best Song: 'Risk'

Art Of Doubt is the best album Metric has made in about a decade and easily feels like the culmination of so much of their previous work, with a strong return to their synth-driven indie rock foundation with meatier grooves, better hooks, and a truly post-modern approach to songwriting and theme that only netted them the strongest of dividends. And what's kind of incredible is the momentum and consistent power of this project: wall-to-wall, some of the most anthemic and bruising rock songs of the band's career that pushes Emily Haines to the limits of her range with some of their catchiest songs to boot. Factor in writing that is just as incisive but also accessible and you have the sort of rock-solid project that asserts Metric as a Canadian indie rock - really should be global at this point, but I'm willing to wait for those south of the border to catch up... but only for a bit.

13. I had so many doubts about this debut album. I really did, given the other project released from revitalized label Monument Records that should not be named, I didn't have a lot of hope this would stick the landing. Turns out we only got one of the best pop country albums of the decade, but hey, when I'm wrong I'll admit it!

13. 'Starfire' by Caitlyn Smith
Best Song: 'This Town Is Killing Me'

This is the sort of debut with the flair, personality, terrific writing and element of surprise that I haven't felt in pop country since Lucy Hale delivered Road Between from out of nowhere - and yeah, after dozens of listens, I'm probably more excited for Caitlyn Smith! Bringing a distinctive husky vocal timbre with incredible power is one thing, but when you balance it out with such a distinctive, almost old-fashioned balance in her production between retro elegance and grounded country texture, Starfire becomes a wallop that has floored nearly everyone whose heard it and is absolutely the biggest indictment of Nashville's systemic failure to put women on the radio. For every lazy, pop-pandering beat-driven waste of time from utterly generic dudes you couldn't find space for Caitlyn Smith blowing them all out of the water? For goddamn shame, because this debut has - pardon the pun - real star power.

12. Now I know what some of you are saying, "Mark, these are all great albums, but I'm noticing a suspicious lack of metal and heavier music on this list, what the hell happened?" Well... yeah, it's true, and what's infuriating is that it feels like I covered so much of it this year too only for precious little to really resonate more deeply. I wanted there to be a fantastic, soaring black metal album to click with me, or for a death project to really stick the landing, or for Within Temptation to not delay their album to next February! But instead... yeah, it's another comeback, and I don't think any of us could have seen this one coming...

12. 'You Won't Get What You Want' by Daughters
Best Song: 'Less Sex'

So if we're looking for a secondary theme running through many of these picks, it's hard to ignore a lingering sense of discomfort and dissatisfaction - and yet not since The Terror by The Flaming Lips have we gotten an album so precisely engineered to unsettle an audience. And I'd argue this album is considerably better, homing in on some of Daughters' most accessible and damn near catchy songs to date with noisy, industrial elements to concoct an abrasive testament to unnerving content. It doesn't revel in human frailty and failure so much as its a taciturn acknowledgement of its ubiquity, leading to a project that might curdle in your stomach but still sticks with you all the same. And for a comeback nearly a decade in the making... yeah, this hits home.

11. I've struggled to say whether or not this was a great year for country music, partially because I'm not sure I covered enough of it but also because with one big exception that we will get to, most of the country I loved this year was low-key and somber and mature - but if you could take those tones and give them a scope to sound so much bigger...

11. 'May Your Kindness Remain' by Courtney Marie Andrews
Best Song: 'Rough Around The Edges'

Courtney Marie Andrews had gotten me onboard with Honest Life two years ago, but May Your Kindness Remain takes the same sort of vulnerable optimism that colored Sister Cities and gives it the warm, atmospheric swell to match it. It's almost damn near post-rock or recalling Casualties Of Cool from 2014, and when you pair it with her tremendous voice and her ability to say so much by using such straightforward language... it's such a warm album that feels so sweeping and huge and yet intimate in the best of ways. To put it plainly, this was the album that places her in the big leagues of indie country, and has proven she will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come - and absolutely nobody can complain about that, because this album was something special.

10. And while we're on the topic of unshakable optimism that took a good formula and pumped it up on steroids...

10. 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' by IDLES
Best Song: 'Danny Nedelko'

I'll admit it's a little tough for me to outright praise Joy As An Act Of Resistance as much as I'd like, because if I am making a comparison to Brutalism, I'll agree the writing feels more straightforward and more laser-focused on a very specific left-leaning demographic. Here's my counterpoint: if you're going to bring forth real nuance along the way anyway, still have a populism fervor that can grab up and recontextualize a genre like oi! for the modern world, and couple it with hooks that span fist-pumping awesomeness, genuine heartbreak, and outright hilarity, is that complaint really going to hold you back? And in a year where I spent so much time learning to love 80s hardcore punk, Idles was the welcome shot of adrenaline that proved just how relevant that sound can be even now, and with the glowing spirit to match it. This snowflake can become an avalanche, and I'd be happy if this buries the discourse beneath it!

9. But look, as much as I loved Idles, it's a shot of adrenaline that doesn't exactly have long-lasting staying power. Eventually you're going to get tired and you're going to need the project to cope, especially when in the modern age it's not so much identifiable enemies as it is systemic pressure. So it's nice to see two of the smartest artists in hip-hop find that balance...

9. 'Everything's Fine' by Jean Grae & Quelle Chris
Best Song: 'My Contribution To This Scam'

Jean Grae and Quelle Chris are so inhumanly talented as rappers, producers, and thinkers that their match is almost too perfect, making the anthems to gritting one's teeth, finding moments to breathe heavily, and provide the reassurance that so much of that oppressive system is built on shoddy foundations that can be so easily disrupted. But it also gets that sort of disruption can have cascading side-effects and there's untold layers of people who could be impacted along the way, and even all of those layers of complicated nuance can be tough to parse and bear. This is an album that promises no easy solutions beyond an outlet to scream into the void, with off-kilter, textured production and flows that are as complicated as the content, but also brought with enough accessibility and humor to be grasped all the same. And if this actually is Jean Grae's last hurrah for rap... man, what a way to go out.

8. So this is an album that's tough to talk about - as a songwriter, this artist is in a class by herself, but I'm stuck inevitably making comparisons to previous albums that I have liked a bit more, and I'm not sure that's always fair. But on the flip side, if you're comparing her to everyone else and she's still here... well, that kind of makes my point for me.

8. 'The Tree' by Lori McKenna
Best Song: 'The Lot Behind St. Mary's'

Lori McKenna's The Tree is, again, one of those albums I think will play to an older demographic more effectively than mine, or in twenty or so years will if anything have greater resonance. And it plays to much of what made The Bird & The Rifle so damn good, just this time with more of a focus on family dynamics and for someone who isn't a parent yet it doesn't quite hit in the same way the lonelier cuts on that last album did. But still, she's one of the best writers in country, Dave Cobb's production while not as lush does wonders to compliment her, and with a veteran like her, there's just so few who are comparable to her voice. And with that, she'll always have a spot on my lists.

7. If we're looking for an album that surprised me the most in its quality, it would be this one. It's also probably one of the most ambitious albums of 2018, and if you dig into its content, one of the most daring. I mean, it takes balls for an indie rock band to take indie rock archetypes and then actively set them on fire...

7. 'Nearer My God' by Foxing
Best Song: 'Gameshark'

If there's an album that's damn near suicidal, it's Nearer My God, taking the structure of emo melodrama to the most overblown heights to drunkenly careen off a cliff with some of their most explosive songs to date... and then we get the second half of the album, which doesn't let the band off the hook and decides to dig into the layered issues of antisocial behavior, entitlement, and abandonment issues for a society of bearded hipster types like them having a quarter-life crisis. And to damn near everyone looking in it can scream of being utterly insufferable, but the songwriters know it and are willing to hold themselves to account with a populist rejection of privilege as much as they can muster that's both forward-thinking and genuinely compelling. Easily Foxing's weirdest project to date, but if you can get pulled into its world, there's nothing quite like it.

6. It used to feel joyous whenever I praised this guy to hell and back - now thanks to bad buzz by completely misinformed reviews I feel like I'm stuck playing defense to reverse a terrible narrative. So let this be my defining statement.

6. 'Full Circle Nightmare' by Kyle Craft
Best Song: 'Slick & Delta Queen'

So if I'm being very blunt I would not say this album hits the same heights of Dolls Of Highland - the highpoints of that album are damn close to untouchable, at least to me. But man, Kyle Craft aimed high, taking more claustrophic production to his personal narrative with a blaring flair and ready charm that made this album so easy to love. Craft has been one of my favourite new songwriters for the past couple of years, and with a healthy injection of self-awareness, exquisite meter and huge hooks, he takes the wreckage of his past romances and spins them into gold with incredibly well-balanced framing and humor to boot. Indulging in retro sounds but never feeling like a throwback, Full Circle Nightmare was a treat to behold, a guy who can take glam to new heights in the modern era and doesn't deserve to be slammed by critics who can't pick up the basic text, because this is easily one of the best of 2018!

5. ...okay look, I'm not saying that me seeing an artist live didn't help get albums or songs onto my lists - in this case, I'd put money on it - but for the full-length debut to be this good coming off a mixtape I could never quite love as much as I wanted, it was a treat indeed.

5. 'Room 25' by Noname
Best Song: 'Don't forget about'

Room 25 is hard to analyze - half because Noname's kaleidoscopic flows often feel ever so slightly evasive, half because her production is low-key but layered in a way to say more without words, half because she's just that great of a writer to overstuff her bars with subtext and yet you get the impression you're not quite hearing everything. And yet that distance has a charm to it, especially surrounded by some brilliantly textured jazzy instrumentals, striking melodies, an embrace of real hooks that you wouldn't quite expect, some stellar guest performances, and Noname's incredibly subtle but magnetic personality. This is absolutely an album that reflects a lot of growth and maturity and a voice that you'd all be very wise to pay attention to - when it comes to chill hip-hop that can still pack a emotive punch, it doesn't get much better.

4. By far the latest entry onto this list... but man, I'd be kicking myself if I didn't get to it sooner, because it's the best country album of 2018.

4. 'Dying Star' by Ruston Kelly
Best Song: 'Blackout'

I was looking for reasons to not give Ruston Kelly a chance - I knew enough of his background to be wary, the critical buzz didn't seem all the way there, the hype only seemed confined to a few small segments... and yet when I'm wrong, I'm wrong, because this album knocked me on my ass hard with brilliantly subtle country flavour in his production that not only took real risks but allowed Kelly to get introspective and vulnerable in a way most men in country don't know how to process. With a fantastic knack for storytelling, Kelly shows the human consequences to hard outlaw living with an unflinching gravity and just how much those projections limit men from finding more of themselves. And again, like the best albums on this list it's so jam-packed with potential singles and hits that you almost can't present an easy entry point - but for me in 2018... yeah, I needed this. Looking forward to more from you, Kelly, you set one hell of a bar.

3. You know, it's funny with this project: it seems easier to dismiss than her past albums. On the surface it doesn't quite seem as ambitious or high concept, it's got more of a contemporary pop flavor, it doesn't seem to be trying as hard, which seems to be the easy out for critics not giving this as much attention. These critics are wrong, here's why!

3. 'Dirty Computer' by Janelle Monae
Best Song: 'Americans'

I've made the statement a number of times that while it might be easy to make a pop song, to make a great pop song that sticks in the memory with unique personality and accessibility you need someone special, and as if we didn't need more proof, Janelle Monae shows up to do it again. The funk and R&B flavor you know, the elements of space rock are an added bonus that I of course adore, but the pop and hip-hop touches are done so convincingly that you wonder why in the Nine Hells streaming playlists were so cowardly to not give her all of the promotion! Was it because she was doing it so much better than pretty much everybody, I think it was! But what's inspired about Dirty Computer is that there's just as much subtext surrounding queer theory, systemic racism and sexism, and Monae's own personal drama amidst all the pop flourishes - painted a little broader but still with real layers. And when you factor in how she does go for broke in the subversion of cultural tropes... again, Dirty Computer is a tour de force that might not seem to be for everyone, but has the populism to embrace us all, providing you're up for a very different world.

2. The last two records on my list... the best way to describe them is that they contain multitudes. They're not making it easy, there's a density to their vulnerability that can be both discomforting and hard to process, made by women who aren't about to shy away from that process and expression. And if we're looking for the album that grew on me the most in 2018...

2. 'Hell-On' by Neko Case
Best Song: 'Sleep All Summer'

Hell-On is tangled. Hell-On is massive. Hell-On is literate and challenging in a way few were prepared to face, even if they were Neko Case fans. It was tumultuous by design, it was overstuffed with hooks to make it accessible but then seemed to contort them a half dozen ways to fly down the rabbit hole into the sea. Like with Janelle Monae and Noname the sexuality is brazen in the best possible way and only adds more nuance - and when you give it all to Neko Case, who might just have one of the most expressive and dynamic voices in indie rock, you're dealing with a confounding project that is on a different level, no way around it. And I'll admit, it took a while for me to fully digest this - hell, just going back to it for this list revealed more layers and flourishes I missed even half a year ago - but between containing some of her best songs, a cover that surpasses the original, and a wisdom and wit that's defiantly her own, Neko Case made a tour de force that I think has just intimidated too many people to approach. One of her best and one of this year's best, it deserves so much more attenion.

1. ...really, you all knew this was coming. This isn't a surprise if you've watched my content, this is exactly what you all would expect. But for those of you who are new or in the back not paying attention, here's one last reminder.

1. 'Chime' by Dessa
Best Song: '5 Out Of 6'

At this point, I've talked so much about Dessa's Chime both in and out of videos, it's hard for me to say there's new things to mention - but the truth is that like with Hell-On, I keep finding more details to love! Sure, you might not call it all straightforward hip-hop, but she runs circles around so many of her peers both in and out of the underground that you can't deny her, and then when you pair it with steps into synthpop that are as convincing as anyone else in the genre this year, she proves how she can straddle genres with aplomb. Her writing is boundlessly creative but accessible and heartfelt, her politics are provocative to everyone and with the layers to spur those uncomfortable conversations - I know, I shared this with a lot of friends on the left and you could tell songs like 'Fire Drills' got under their skin in a way they couldn't quite deal with. And on that topic, this was the first album that if I didn't confine myself to my three-songs-per-album rule for my last list, it'd would easily have five songs in my top 20 - not even the albums I gave perfect scores to in 2016 have that distinction! In short, I have called this her magnum opus but I'm more than confident she's only beginning to give us more - hell, she didn't stop this year, she wrote a book and put that out too! In fact, let me go out on a limb with this: if Chime does not place Dessa in your top 5 conversations, listen to it a few more times and get back to me. It's the third album I've given a 10/10, and for the hundred-plus times I've revisited it, it only proves how much it belongs there. Album of the year in 2018, let's see if 2019 can match it.

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