Thousands of albums get released each year. I spent time with a few hundred of them in 2018, and here are my favorites:
1. Sarah Shook, "Years" (Bloodshot): Sometimes relationships linger long after they become toxic. Shook, a nuanced songwriter and a singer capable of injecting a telling line with a lived-in immediacy, tells the story from both sides, with a spitfire country-punk band.
2. Idles, "Joy as an Act of Resistance" (Partisan): One of the year's anthems, "Danny Nedelko," about the British band's friendship with a Ukrainian immigrant, typifies an album that turns the fight against oppression of all kinds – political, psychological, familial – into roaring, celebratory protest.
3. Noname, "25" (self-released): "Quit looking out the window, go find yourself," Noname sings on the follow-up to the acclaimed "Telefone." The Chicago poet-turned-MC is a woman in transition – establishing a new home, new life and new possibilities while the album was being made – and the soulful music reflects her wide-screen perspective.
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4. Superchunk, "What a Time to be Alive" (Merge): The veteran North Carolina quartet has never sounded more energized – and that's saying something – as it interrogates itself about music's purpose amid demoralizing grown-up realities.
5. Saba, "Care for Me" (Saba Pivot): The MC-producer developed one of the most distinctive sounds in independent music with his Pivot Gang. His latest album is a soul-dusted eulogy for his cousin, Pivot Gang cofounder John Walt. It's at once heart-breaking and hauntingly beautiful.
6. Our Girl, "Stranger Today" (Cannibal Hymns): The British co-ed trio showcases the conversational vocals and buzzing, swooping guitar-playing of Soph Nathan, who packs hooks and eerie atmospherics into walloping pop songs.
7. Parquet Courts, "Wide Awake!" (Parquet Courts): This smorgasbord of punk, funk and tender ballads is thrillingly diverse and catchy, and yet it's also the quartet's angriest and most open-hearted album.
8. Boygenius, "boygenius" (Matador): Brilliant songwriters Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers join forces for a six-song EP that brings out the best in each of them, topped by the surging "Salt in the Wound" and the mountain-soul harmonizing of "Ketchum, ID."
9. Motorcade, "Motorcade" (Idol): The Dallas band has a profound affinity for the new wave and post punk of the '80s, not as nostalgia but as a timeless vehicle for self-expression in 11 fat-free songs.
10. Eleanor Friedberger, "Rebound" (Frenchkiss): Sooner or later the world will figure out just what an astute, profoundly adult songwriting talent Friedberger has become. These haunting electro-pop tunes are her most moving yet.
The next 10: Fantastic Negrito, "Please Don't Be Dead" (Cooking Vinyl); Robyn, "Honey" (Konichiwa/Interscope); Courtney Barnett, "Tell Me How You Really Feel" (Mom + Pop); Valee, "Good Job, You Found Me" (G.O.O.D. Music); Janelle Monae, "Dirty Computer" (Wondaland/Bad Boy); Amanda Shires, "To the Sunset" (Silver Knife/Thirty Tigers); Ohmme, "Parts" (Joyful Noise); John Prine, "The Tree of Forgiveness" (Oh Boy); Lucy Dacus, "Historian" (Matador); Dessa, "Chime" (Doomtree).