The end of the year is a time for looking back at milestones — the events and moments that began or bookended a day, a week, a month. That often means thinking about the music that soundtracked a season, or the song that you listened to on loop.
Underneath the lists of critically acclaimed albums, there are releases still to be recognized. This list just scratches the surface of a year that was full of up-and-comers, political and social commentary, and the slow but sure leveling of the industry’s playing field.
*NOTE: These albums are listed by release date.
The Buttertones — Midnight in a Moonless Dream
With London Guzman’s entrancing sax and Richard Araiza’s melancholy vocals, Midnight in a Moonless Dream is a heavy addition to The Buttertones’ discography. The Los Angeles five-piece’s latest album picks up right where they left us in 2017, with their third full-length, Gravedigging — a tasteful crossover record of surfer rock and psychobilly. Midnight in a Moonless Dream has a mystifying way of creating an ominous environment: “Zigzag my way through a Saturday night / Look in the cupboard/ Winks and smiles /Put me down if my skin turns crimson / Other me is my soul’s seedy underbelly,” Arazia boisterously sings, against chaotic drumming, on “Winks and Smiles.” Employing psychobilly, punk and surfer rock elements, the Buttertones give rock some much needed TLC by highlighting some of the genres overlooked subcultures. — Katie Lipsiner
illuminati hotties — Kiss Yr Frenemies
Sarah Tudzin, the brains and brawn behind illuminati hotties, has an impressive repertoire of past musical collaborations and projects. From sound design for the original broadway recording of Hamilton; to studio time with acts like Porches; and serving as a production assistant and sound engineer for the likes of Beach House and TV on the Radio, Tudzin understands what elevates an artist’s sound. Kiss Yr Frenemies, the band’s debut album, is evidence of that knowledge. It’s a living and breathing “tender punk” record that both yells and whispers about everything from dive bars and failed relationships, to needing to take on a fourth job to “pay off the happiness.” Tudzin starts off short and sweet with the title track “Kiss Yr Frenemies” but quickly transitions to “(You’re Better) Than Ever,” a self-aware song that teeters between a danceable melody and an angry outburst. The entirety of Kiss Yr Frenemies seems to be a pendulum, swinging vigorously but seamlessly between sweet and salty. — Erin Patrick
The Beths — Future Me Hates Me
There are few things that I love more than a good pop-punk hook — bonus points if it packs a sardonic one-two punch — and The Beths’ debut album checks all the boxes. Future Me Hates Me is an efficient way to kill an hour, along with the inflated self-esteem of your annoying ex. Frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes winds her way through the pains of new crushes and old loves, with nonchalant vocals à la Courtney Barnett. “Little Death” details the heart-fluttering burden of falling for someone, while “Uptown Girl” soundtracks a frenzied night out, complete with drinking too much and wishing the worst upon the asshole that broke your heart. With Future Me Hates Me, Stokes manages to refreshingly bare her soul without being overly earnest. — Kristy Guilbault
Big Red Machine — Big Red Machine
Big Red Machine is the product of 10 years of musical exploration by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National. The warm and provocative self-titled album is the first release from the new artist collective PEOPLE — a project comprised of Vernon, Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and two industry entrepreneurs, Tom and Nadine Michelberger. Big Red Machine is proof of what Vernon has long believed and embodied — there is creative power in numbers — as are PEOPLE and Vernon’s Eaux Claire festival, which both center on collaboration between artists. This album demonstrates the glitchy, digital elements of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, but with warmer tones and an aura of tranquility, rather than the unpredictability that often accompanies an avant-garde electronic album. Each track seems to move with centripetal motion; Vernon and Dessner don’t necessarily provide anything concrete. There aren’t standout “singles” on the album, and there aren’t quotable lyrics. Big Red Machine is one cohesive piece — an artistic exploration that is best consumed wholly. — EP
Mothers — Render Another Ugly Method
Following up their 2016 full-length debut, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, Mothers has returned with Render Another Ugly Method. The complex album drastically compares to the delicate tenderness of When You Walk, with monotone vocals and alluring rhythmic rock. Frontperson Kristine Leschper has an undying talent for exhibiting how mundane tasks of the body can be. “I’ve been practicing / Extreme forms of distraction / Brush my teeth / As an act of desperation / Show me a beauty routine / To erase me completely,” Leschper slowly serenades on album opener “BEAUTY ROUTINE.” Render calls out the numbness of the status-quo, with invigorating lyrics and discombobulated song structures, making it an all-consuming but equally all-important listen. — KL
Shannen Moser — I’ll Sing
Hailing from Philadelphia, Shannen Moser made her studio debut just last year, with Oh, My Heart. The album demonstrated her songwriting prowess and unmistakable vocal talent, specifically in the realm of new folk. Moser quickly followed the 2017 release with this year’s I’ll Sing — a LP that feels like a natural next step in her discography. Where artists often fall short, writing folk songs that feel inauthentic and jaded, Moser brings something fresh that can’t exactly be nailed down. Whether it’s her sugary yodel, her honest narrative or the mid-fi instrumentation, just two albums in to her career, Moser has differentiated herself. — EP
Yowler — Black Dog In My Path
Maryn Jones began writing under the moniker Yowler as a creative outlet, after moving to Philly created too many logistical challenges to continue actively working with Columbus, Ohio’s Saintseneca and All Dogs, but the project has slowly eclipsed her more collaborative works. Yowler encompasses both the muted complexities of Saintseneca and All Dogs’ plucky dissonance, all the while carving out a space entirely of her own. Jones’ 2015 debut, The Offer, quietly contemplates her newfound isolation, but the follow-up, Black Dog In My Path, takes a darker, more aggressive turn. Opening track “Angel” sweetly showcases Jones’ unique vocals, paired with acoustic guitar and minimal instrumentation. From there, heavily distorted guitar and thundering percussion take shape, such as on “Where Is My Light?,” peaking during the deceptively dancey track “WTFK” as Jones monotonously states, “Sick fucking world, and where do I get off (Where do we get off?).” With more substantial instrumentation, Black Dog In My Path deviates from the soft simplicity of Yowler’s debut, providing layers for Jones’ emotions to permeate. — KG
Basement — Beside Myself
For just short of a decade, British underground rockers Basement have been bringing their A game. So, how does 2018’s Beside Myself stack up against their impressive discography? To put it simply: damn well. Between the release of their 2016 album, Promise Everything, and Beside Myself, the band uprooted itself from the UK, to make music in the U.S. As their fourth record, Beside Myself brings an introspective revitalization to Basement’s seemingly gloomy exterior, such as on “Disconnect” and “Be Here Now.” The album is a testament to the fact that no matter where Basement’s members find themselves in the world, they always kill it. — KL
Miya Folick — Premonitions
There’s something weirdly wonderful about the detachment felt throughout your 20’s — the recurrent existential crises, scattered heartbreak, and oscillation between desperately needing time alone and craving socialization — but sometimes the isolated independence gets to you. Miya Folick’s latest release, Premonitions, offers manic musings on leaving your 20’s that you can simultaneously dance and cry to. The album concurrently opens and emotionally peaks with “Thingamajig,” a gorgeous, burgeoning ballad that addresses the sting of recognizing you were in the wrong. But the fun lies in “Stop Talking,” a funky, blunt address to a friend to drop the boy who’s “just not very nice to you.” As the sonic summation of your most fleeting years, Premonitions is the much-needed antidote for 2018, a year that seemed to drag on for an eternity. — KG