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Sometimes, I long for the days before. Before Twitter, before Facebook, before social media made every day feel like lining up for a firing squad of new information, new entertainment, new songs, new videos, new albums, new news, new clips, new music video premieres, new announcements, new pre-orders, new spoilers, new lunatics deciding to kill people for no reason, new hot takes and new threads. While I’m sure times have been worse, they’ve never been more, you know what I mean?
Which is to say, it’s a virtual impossibility to find room in your day-to-day life to keep up on everything, and it’s likely there are some cracks in your information-action ratio sieve. Nowhere are those cracks maybe the most like canyons than in music, where the sheer number of albums released — over 75,000 each year — make it a physical impossibility to even get close to hearing everything. This list isn’t going to get you close to that 75,000 number — we picked only 20 overlooked albums — but at least you’ll be exposed to 20 albums that you might not have heard otherwise.
Year end lists like this are a good excuse to try to pause that never-ending deluge, an opportunity to take stock and try to make some sense of what we all heard this year. Like we’ve done in the past, we have some of these on vinyl where applicable. So smash those buy links if you find anything here you enjoy. Fight the feed for a little while and catch up on things you might have missed. —Andrew Winistorfer
At times, certain records emerge from the ashes like a guidebook for anyone wading through the troubles of working to be anything. You Are Here operates from this motivation, standing in line with the year’s best in a mere 18 minutes. It’s one-part confessional, two-part roadmap to the cycles of creation; it’s interrogative in ways many records evade, while evading classification itself. R&B? Too easy (and racially classed.) Alternative? To whom, exactly? Hip-hop? Trace elements, but certainly not. April + VISTA have molded themselves from the cloth of pushing forward, their hazy little world extending a gentle hand for one’s problems that can easily compound into nagging monstrosities if left unchecked. Listen hard enough, and it’s an extended drag of every insecurity the listener’s yet to face, followed by an invitation to conquer them. —Michael Penn II
This Chattanooga rapper (and mother to two sets of twins) makes confident, house-shaking southern rap bops that shock me to think she hasn’t blown the hell up yet every time I turn them on. Her bars are the definition of authenticity and walk the perfect line between matter-of-fact and smirking self-assurance. This is especially true on Bbymutha’s second project this year after January’s Muthaz Day, Bbyshoe. From an adorable interlude of her kid repeatedly telling her to “mind her own business” to the lurking, piano-heavy bop “Lately” featuring Rico Nasty (what an actual dream pair), Bbymutha delivers brazy rhymes with perfect brevity that’s had me hitting repeat all year long. —Amileah Sutliff
As the title might suggest, the format of Helena Deland’s 2018 releases is a bit unconventional. She released nine tracks in total across a series of four volumes that might resemble singles or EPs, but aren’t exactly. Given that volumes one and two were released at the same time, the separation of the songs across volumes has less to do with chronology and more to do with Deland’s intentional decision to allow the tracks to exist on their own as parts of a whole. In the grand scheme of these songs, the project’s disjointedness only makes sense. From track-to-track, the project runs the gamut from softer singer-songwriter indie rock (“Rise,” “A Stone is a Stone”) to meditative trip-hop-y bedroom pop (“Take it All,” “Claudion”), but consistently toes the line between instantly classic and experimental. The result is a lack of commitment to anything but discombobulating the listener in the best way possible and stunning musical narratives that can stand alone or among their counterparts. —AS
You can buy Vol. III & IV of this album on vinyl right here.
An album by one of the powerhouses of indie rock, released by a major indie label might feel like a weird inclusion here, but when the Dirty Projectors make their best album since Bitte Orca (yeah, I said it), and it’s met with a muted response, it ends up here. David Longstreth’s narrative was too tidy for 2017’s Dirty Projectors — guy breaks up with his creative muse, they make albums from different sides of a breakup — so this album, which is largely about new love and finding personal fulfillment and salvation in a new lover, felt like it was tacked on as a coda to a story that’s already been written. But songs like “I Found It In You” and the bonkers doo-wop of “What Is The Time” deserved better; they should be soundtracking the artisanal bakeries and kombucha bars of Williamsburg and the Highlands and Silver Lake right now. —AW
You can buy this album on vinyl right here.
Sometimes we look back at certain albums and realized they were an outlandish alien needle pointing at the potential of releases to come, and if we’re lucky, BASIC VOLUME is one of them. That prediction isn’t based on Brixton MC and producer Gaika’s undeniably singular voice and style alone — although that is a factor — but due to of the album’s bone-rattling, dancehall-invaded-by-an-extraterrestrial-robot sonics. For all the (let’s face it, too often corny) apocalyptic electronic music flooding our soundscapes these days, this album is the a best possible version of what those projects set out to accomplish. Gaika’s narratives of the postcolonial landscape, and existing in a black body within it, situated among a motorized blend of London grime, R&B, dancehall and something else entirely, demand attention start to finish and give a boiling, violent racial and political landscape the urgency it deserves. —AS
Named after Australian bagged wine, the Goon Sax travel in teenage ennui, that era of your life where the possibilities are endless and your ability to do anything — or even know which movie to watch — feels infinitesimal. Their sophomore album, We’re Not Talking is full of e•mo•tion and teenage malaise, and “Make Time 4 Life” might be the band’s masterpiece so far: It’s a song full of tiny moments of young love, both flourishing and dissipating. This was the best album to overthink your life to this year. —AW
You can buy this album on vinyl right here.
Every few years, Brownsville’s finest penman Ka returns from his time in the shadows to grace us with more calculated street tales woven from the finest materials on Earth. The results are luxurious, but not borne from spoiled intentions or a common, boring greed; Ka’s music is fine-tuned hip-hop, labored over tirelessly until every word locks into place. This time, paired with Animoss, Orpheus vs. The Sirens revisits the streets with a Greek lens. The records play like sage advice, like first-person memoirs of valor, honor and danger. Animoss rises to the occasion with samples as epic as the material, like a score for the adaptation of Ka’s adventures. This rap album is a journey, should you choose to accept it. —MPII
Have you ever had one of those moments when listening to an album where you think, “This might not be aimed at me — hell, it’s probably aimed a few miles away from me,” but it connects regardless? Bambi is one of those albums. Hippo Campus have been a bit of a mystery to me: After selling records at Bonnaroo and having their title be the most coveted on all three days (mostly to young teens), I couldn’t wrap my head around what type of band they were and how they were able to captivate their audience. Let’s not beat around the bush here, they make pop music — but they make pop music that’s just the right amount of nostalgic while staying deeply rooted in futurism. Bambi is a genuine risk that, admittedly, may have attributed to why this album flew so far under the radar. Regardless, this record is a bold and genuinely enjoyable move by a young band exploring every possible avenue. —Alex Berenson
You can buy this album on vinyl right here.
On her sophomore release, Charlotte-born, Philly-based rapper Ivy Sole audibly actualized the distinct feeling of consciously — sometimes laboriously — growing into your own. She recalled to Noisey writing down the phrase “overgrown” a couple years ago, explaining, “I’ve outgrown a lot of situations, people, and bad habits. I’m still figuring out what life, love, and purpose mean to me, and that’s something that can and should change over time, but for the most part, I feel like I’m settling into myself.” Out of that mentality, she spun 47 minutes of assured, yet gentle poetry over warm, laidback, lushly floral sounds that you’ll be glad to return to when you inevitably need to hash out the lost corners of yourself. —AS
You can sign-up to receive this album, our April Rap & Hip Hop pick, on vinyl right here.
Every single time I hear Junglepussy rap, “We don’t fuck, he just pick me up from Trader Joe’s / Carry all my groceries and lick on all my toes” on “Trader Joe,” I think why the hell don’t we talk about this literally every day. Her first two albums in 2014 and 2015 were packed to the brim with high-tempo, in-your-face Certified Ass Shakers™. But while she hasn’t abandoned her apparent favorite topic (sex), which she forever approaches with braggadocious hilarity and the demanding confidence women are often coached to avoid, JP3 is a markedly different sound. It’s lyrically and sonically more playful, funkier and, ultimately, what we could all use out of a good fuck and and good track: a ridiculous amount of fun. —AS
This year, Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay came together to create LUMP: an impressive collaboration, drenched in texture, that transports you to a beautiful and self-contained world. The project is deeply rooted in both a disdain for consumerism and and an ironic acceptance of its inevitability. Through seamless transitions, layered vocals and unexpected melodies — the duo have succeeded in honoring and creating a conceptually strong piece of work. LUMP is a refreshing dose of escapism that invites you to spend some time in Marling and Lindsay’s world — because sometimes it's nice to take a vacation in someone else’s head for a while. —AB
A dayglo psych rock album isn’t exactly the first place you’d look for the raw emotions of a breakup album, but Montero’s Performer is exactly that. It’s maybe the first breakup album that should come packaged with a tab of acid, as the cartoonist and musician packs songs about fleeing a relationship (“Montero Airlines”), retreating into yourself (“Caught Up In My Own World”) and into substances (“Tokin’ The Night Away”) into songs that sound like his vivid marker drawings. It came out in January, which seems a lot longer than 11 months ago, but it’s a perfect companion for all seasons, a soft hug in the crush of reality. —AW
Mr. Twin Sister are overlooked more for the fact that they’ve released only three albums in eight years; long periods of reconsidering their sound and album-crafting mean that they’re perennially underappreciated. Their 2018 album, Salt, is their most searching and wide-ranging yet, and it finds the group expanding their sound to include house music (“Keep on Mixing”), soft jazz (“Alien FM”) and alt&B (“Koh-I-Noor”), and that’s just in the first three songs. This band has overcome a lot in the last 7/10 of a decade — from a van crash, a name change, label change, appearing as the band in the Veronica Mars movie — so this ends up feeling like a victory lap; it’s an adventurous album full of stylistic left-turns that break the boundaries around their catalog. —AW
Julia Jacklin — one of Australia’s most exciting, smart and accomplished songwriters — had her debut LP, Don’t Let The Kids Win be one of the most overlooked albums of 2016, and her 2018 semi-follow-up (she wrote this one with her two pals in Phantastic Ferniture) feels like it experienced the same fate. A ripping, grungy slab of rockcraft, Phantastic Ferniture is like listening to a group of friends making a dope album after a session with a water pipe and a large pepperoni pizza. Jacklin’s got a new album coming in early 2019; get caught up now so you don’t get caught sleeping for the third album in a row. —AW
You can buy this album right here.
There’s the phrase “Grown Man Rap,” and then there’s Phonte: one-half of Foreign Exchange, one-third of Little Brother and the type of MC to take seven years between albums if he needs to. No News is Good News arrived quietly and spoke heavily of the Grownness: the type of grown that has you checking cholesterol and raising your kids right before death knock on your door next. It’s soulful, remorseful, but bright; Phonte sounds as focused as ever, unconcerned with his surroundings and uncompromised by a desire to claw for clout. It’s OG talk that cuts to the bone, truth the only thing on the menu. —MPII
After I had to sell my turntable to pay rent (oops), the very first record I popped on my new record player after a few months of not being able to do just that was Michael Seyer’s Bad Bonez. I can’t think of many releases that satiate as many moods — sleepy, in love, invigorated, lonely, lazy, horny, melancholy — as quickly or wholly as Bad Bonez. It’s an unpretentious but meticulous bedroom pop record with a penchant for glittering synths, laidback surf-rock stylings, and a wider range of emotional maturity than the combined sum of every man I’ve talked to this week. —AS
You can buy this album here.
On the tail end of G.O.O.D. Summer, Teyana Taylor did her own re-emergence with an eight-song drop that felt far too left in the dust for what she gave us. K.T.S.E. channels glimmers of The Old Kanye to give Taylor a dirty flair to the polished gloss of her voice, like making hits off the beat tape. It’s got one foot in the soul of decades past, the other firmly in the present, and Taylor doesn’t miss a step. The results gave us some of the year’s most fun, engaging R&B, riding the throwback effect into the sunset with heated tales of lust, heartbreak, and perseverance. — MPII
“I thought that I would want so many in my lifetime / But now the only one is you,” Totally Mild lead singer Elizabeth Mitchell sings a few minutes into the band’s sensational Her, an album that confronts the stasis, the beauty, the ennui and the comfort that comes with domesticity. Blessed with a voice that sounds like your grandma’s finest crystal, Mitchell sings haunting ballads (“Lucky Stars”), jangly indie rock (“Take Today”) and slow-crawling burners (“More”). It adds up to a bracingly pretty album, which for my money also has the single best line on any song this year: “Heaven’s knowing what you want when you’re young,” Mitchell sings on the album’s centerpiece “Today Tonight.” —AW
It’s easy to forget how Trapo hasn’t scraped his 20s yet; the gruff commandeering of his voice bends lyric and melody, turning a lyrical onslaught into a sweet serenade on a whim. Where the poppier leaps of his earlier material elevated his profile into a semi-national spotlight, Oil Change is a daring step against that grain: It’s an album where Trapo raps his ass off. For almost an hour straight. There’s no features, no huge names producing and minimal fanfare. But you find a young man approaching the precipice of fame, dissecting himself and his world with a precision gone unmatched for MCs of his youthful caliber. In the neverending search for “bars” in today’s rap, it’d be an extreme disservice to ignore how Trapo carries the Midwest tradition of lyrics still mattering in the total package. —MPII
A 2015 bus crash made George Lewis Jr., aka Twin Shadow, reconsider a lot of things: How he wanted to live his life, what he felt was important and how to continue his long-running synth-rock project. He came back with Caer, a soaring song cycle — and his best album since 2010’s Forget — that is about preparing yourself for the fall that will eventually claim us all. The highlight is “Saturdays,” a song that sounds like it could have been on the Karate Kid soundtrack that features Haim as Twin Shadow’s backing chorus. —AW
You can buy this album right here.
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