12. Whyte Horses - Empty Words (CRC) The French-English duo from Manchester’s second album is an expansion on 2016’s Pop or Not, combining loops and fuzz guitars with twee sweetness and flat vocal delivery to deliver a sort of yé-yé album for the 21st Century. If you’re yearning for something that hearkens back to Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura’s most effortless moments, Whyte Horses have your back.
13. Gwenno - Le Kov (Heavenly) Gwenno Saunders’ second solo album after the breakup of The Pipettes is another ambitious record of krautrock-influenced chamber pop. Instead of singing in Welsh, as she did on 2015’s Y Dydd Olaf, Gwenno sings in Cornish this time. The result is haunting, lovely, and sounds far less forced than anyone could imagine. The Cornish language board reported a 15% increase in those taking courses in the language, citing this album as the main reason why.
14. didi - Like Memory Foam (Damnably) The Columbus, Ohio band’s second album revisits the tried-and-true conventions of the poppiest and most melodic corners of MTV’s 1990s Buzz Bin. Fuzzy, but not impenetrable, didi dip into the pool forged by bands like Veruca Salt, Superdrag, and that dog. The choruses soar like your favorite Pixies tracks, complete with adorable harmonies and singable hooks. There’s even a little feedback if you want. They make it sound far too easy.
15. Vein - errorzone (Closed Casket Activities) The year’s most exciting metal album finds the interdimensional midpoint between Converge’s pained hardcore yowls and… Slipknot? The Boston quintet brings together samples, screams, tempo changes, and bonecrushing guitars; all come together perfectly here.
16. Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love (Warp) Combining R&B, hip-hop, dance, post-rock, and even pop into an experimental stew that refuses to acknowledge the strict definitions of its component parts, Yves Tumor came from seemingly nowhere to create one of the most forward-thinking albums of 2018.
17. Makaya McCraven - Universal Beings (International Anthem) As much an achievement of editing as it is a wonderful archive of improvised jazz, the Chicago drummer’s 90-minute double-album picks and chooses the top moments from live and garage performances recorded in LA, NYC, Chicago, and London. Jeff Parker features on the title track. Soothing, spastic, and everywhere in between.
18. serpentwithfeet - soil (Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle) If you had a voice like this, you might sound this confident on your debut album, too. Incorporating elements of neo-classical music and experimental electronic with these spare R&B compositions, serpentwithfeet creates a soaring album with moving chord progressions.
19. Serengeti - Dennis 6E (FlamingoPop) The Kenny Dennis character gets laid to rest on the most unique album of the lovable South Sider’s story. Serengeti is able to expand his sound with airy synths often taking the place of thumping beats. It’s a sound that other rappers have explored before (Lil B’s Rain in England comes to mind), but never to this great of an effect.
20. boygenius - boygenius EP (Matador) Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus combine their forces of country, folk, and rock to create a harmonious, lush handful of tracks that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.
21. Lightfoils - Chambers (self-released) The Chicago band toes the line between shoegaze’s stone-shattering noise and dream pop’s trebly twinkles to give us five lengthy tracks of haze to get lost in.
22. Vapor Eyes - Smooth FM (self-released) The Chicago cratedigger David Cohen puts together a collection of mixes that aren’t as obvious or clout-chasing as Girl Talk, nor as Blue Note-heavy as Amon Tobin’s Bricolage or US3. Instead, it’s insanely danceable material that’s divorced enough from its sources to be purely original. One of the most joyous albums of the year.
23. Tim Rutili & Craig Ross - 10 Seconds to Collapse (Jealous Butcher) Califone lead singer Rutili and collaborateur Craig Ross put their heads and strings together for a sunnier sort of take on the tried-and-true Califone sound. The dusty, blues-y sort of folk gets an injection of optimism and modern production that catapults this collection into the stratosphere.
24. Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending (Domino) The Glaswegian legends regain their form by going full disco on their fifth full-length. Are they still as cheeky as they’ve ever been? Of course. Are the rhythms jaunty and the punch lines still sort-of corny? Why do you think this one made the list? The Academy Award for good times goes to them.
25. Christine and the Queens - Chris (Because) Hélöise Letissier’s fourth album as C&tQ is an 80’s-style pop album at its heart. But beyond the pure and simple exterior is an exploration of gender and sexuality that goes beyond character sketch, and asks more questions than it answers.
26. Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears (Transgressive) The Norwich duo mix furious electronic beats into their second album. Fractured pop that isn’t afraid to get weird, and, say, do an 11-minute song about Donnie Darko.
27. The Internet - Hive Mind (Columbia) Silky-smooth, jazzy R&B from Syd’s LA side project. An infinitely listenable fourth album.
28. Stella Donnelly - Thrush Metal EP (Secretly Canadian) The Australian singer-songwriter uses a massive voice and a tender ear for melody to craft a deceptively simple and touching collection of tracks. Bring a handkerchief for “Mean to Me”.
29. Vince Staples - FM! (Def Jam) The Long Beach rapper continues his amazing career with another album of reflective, dark hip-hop that still manages to be a party soundtrack.
30. The Streets on Fire - Dead Styles (The Currency Exchange) After eight years without a record, the Chicago band reconvenes for another set of dance-y post-punk that makes this listener yearn for 2005.
31. Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (Young Turks) That cover of “Fists of Fury” kicked so much ass.
32. Khrunagbin - Con Todo El Mundo (Dead Oceans) The Houston instrumental trio stretch their wings and get truly funky on their second album. A little bit psych, a little surf, more than a bit Thai funk, and a little bit pan-continental, this one is extremely listenable.
33. Sleep - The Sciences (Third Man) Imagine being Jack Black and getting the chance to release Sleep’s comeback album. I’d be running through a busy intersection rejoicing. Anyway, this album’s first actual song kicks off with a massive bong rip and continues from there. It does what it says on the tin.
34. Saba - Care for Me (Saba Pivot, LLC) The Chicago rapper’s musical eulogy to John Walt is a spare, diverse album that primes him for superstardom.
35. Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt (Fat Possum) Jason Pierce threw so many component tracks into the songs on his latest album of maximalist space-rock that even Pro Tools cried uncle. The songs are great, don’t get me wrong, but someone tell Pierce about bouncing, geez.
36. Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (Anti-) The San Francisco band’s most forward-thinking and approachable album. “You Without End” is an adult contemporary song with death metal vocals, and it works. Incredible.
37. Jlin - Autobiography (Music from Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography) (Planet Mu) The Gary, IN impresario crafts a minimalist and modern classical-inspired album of footwork-y jams meant to soundtrack a modern dance piece. It’s all over the place, but you know the classic Jlin elements when you hear them.
38. A.A.L. (Against All Logic) - 2012-2017 (Other People) Nicolas Jaar’s sample-reliant, house-leaning pseudonym is tons of fun and absolutely worth your time.
39. Dirty Sidewalks - Bring Down the House Lights (No-Count) Did you want another latter-day Jesus and Mary Chain album? Do you like the murk of shoegaze with the ego of Oasis? This Seattle band, and this album, are for you.
40 (tie). Jeff Tweedy - Warm (dBpm) This is what Sky Blue Sky was supposed to sound like, I am convinced.
40 (tie). Mastersystem - Dance Music (Physical Education) Rest in thundering peace, Scott. 40. Sleepwalk - Splatter (self-released) Heavy, goth-y “belligerent” (per the band, not me) shoegaze not unlike Static Daydream. Excellent stuff from Chicago. 40 (tie). AMOR - Sinking into a Miracle (NIGHT SCHOOL) Glasgow disco that is the DFA album you wanted in 2018.