Illustration by John Garrison

40 Essential Albums You Probably Missed So Far in 2018

The first half of 2018 delivered some incredible music. Check out what might've slipped under your radar.

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Jul 18 2018, 6:45pm

Illustration by John Garrison

We’re not gonna lie, in a world in which we have extremely easy access to all music that’s ever been recorded, it’s a bummer that Drake continues to break every streaming record that’s ever existed, only to then break that same streaming record the next week. At Noisey, we attempt to highlight some of the best music that releases on a weekly basis, but in our world of endless homologous feeds, it’s a bit easy to miss some new dope music while making a joke that Scorpion is longer than The Lion King. So to help turn you on to some new music, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite releases that you probably missed so far in 2018.

A.A.L (Against All Logic) - 2012 - 2017

If you haven’t hopped on the Nicolas Jaar bandwagon yet—maybe you find him too heady, too experimental, too cerebral—put ears on this. Electronic music’s resident sphinx quietly dropped the album under his A.A.L (Against All Logic) DJ moniker as a surprise release back in February, departing from the riveting but obscure sounds of his solo work and Darkside for Jaar’s most boogie-ready output to date. It’s ultimately a house record, letting samples and melody take the lead over his typical compositional excavations. But it’s still unquestionably Jaar, with plenty to unpack: There’s the winking meta-sampling of Yeezus on “Such a Bad Way;’” the digital disemboweling of “You Are Going to Love Me and Scream;” the kryptonite builds and drops of “Cityfade;” and the legacy nods of “This Old House Is All I Have.” The album is framed as a collection of songs, but it’s really a seamless mix—put it on at your next party, and let its alchemy do the rest—that flexes Jaar as a brilliant stylistic omnivore, proving him once again both master of and slave to the rhythm. — Andrea Domanick

Adzalaan - Into Vermilion Mirrors

One could almost be forgiven for failing to keep pace with Portland, OR label Vrasubatlat’s manic release schedule; the underground entity releases more quality black metal in three months than most bigger labels manage all year, and Adzalaan’s brilliant full-length debut, Into Vermilion Mirrors, is no exception. There’s a certain finesse to the way they play with melody; it’s centered in a way that this kind of lo-fi black metal seldom bothers with, and is what makes this band so appealing (and so terribly listenable). They may be my favorite of the Vrasubatlat clan (which is really saying something when we’ve got bands like Pissblood, Utzalu, and Dagger Lust to content with). —Kim Kelly

Ails - The Unraveling

Ails is one of the most exciting new black metal prospects of the past few years, and deserves far more attention for their roaring 2018 debut, The Unraveling. As we said back when they released their first two songs, “Ails beautifully synthesizes melancholy melodic death metal, stately doom, and atmospheric black metal, teasing every iota of intensity from each individual note and capitalizing on Shanaman's vocal might to hammer it all home—an effect that's further magnified whenever Cather joins her on the mic in deadly, elegant concord. The riffs here are knotty, often looped together in tight harmony, and supremely melodic, colored by a dark, sooty gloom that recalls Ludicra's paeans to urban blight.” —Kim Kelly

Alex Zhang Hungtai - Divine Weight

Alex Zhang Hungtai’s debut on NON Worldwide is a high drama sort of situation. The accompanying writeup on the label’s Bandcamp page makes reference to a hierarchy of consciousness, implying that Divine Weight, at least on some metaphorical level attempts to tap into whatever spiritual muck unites all of us. Along the way the writeup makes reference to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fantastical lens for viewing the world, Psychomagic, which is essentially an abstract belief system about the healing power of dreams. You can choose to view this stuff as totally insignificant to the work, given that it's totally wordless and melodically abstract, but there really is this sense of heightened reality in the unearthly glimmers of Zhang’s compositions. Taking “failed” saxophone pieces and sending them stratospheric by way of efects manipulation and granular synthesis, Zhang makes the mundane feel otherworldly, a transmutation that can’t be underestimated. —Colin Joyce

Among the Rocks and Roots - Raga

Drawing from the chaos of a world of “spiritual sickness” and each of their experiences with addiction, the Virginia duo Among the Rocks and Roots’ debut album Raga is appropriately crushing take on noise rock. Abdul Hakim-Bilal’s towering bass drones and Samuel Goff’s thunderous tom explorations have this feeling of improvised weaponry—as if they’d grabbed whatever heavy object was nearest around them and are flinging it haphazardly into the guts of a broken system, with the goal of seeing how much carnage they might wreak. Over the course of four lengthy pieces—the shortest of which is 21 minutes—they keep edges of their instrumentals blunt, favoring raw power over technical wizardry. But the most chilling moments come in quietly, like the staticy dissolution of “Salvation,” or the part five minutes into the title track that’s just Hakim-Bilal’s labored breathing and a long roll on a tom. In between the pained screams, there is the possibility of peace. Or perhaps there is nothing at all. —Colin Joyce

Anna von Hausswolff - Dead Magic

OK look, there is a 16-minute song on this. Let’s get that out in the open now. For fans of Anna von Hausswolff, the experimental Swedish songwriter and organ player, that won’t seem like news. But if you’ve not yet tried her expansive, rumbling, and almost genreless music, then just know that she’s one of those artists who can make a five-track album run to 47 minutes. That’s not to say Dead Magic, her fourth full-length, is overly self-indulgent. Rather, it’s a textured amble through doom pop and drone terrain, where von Hausswolff’s vocals often lean back into the folds of the synths, organ, and guitars played to sound like everything from landing jets to metal clanging against iron. Strings kick in, on tracks like opener “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall,” and euphoric builds make the whole record twinkle like a black crystal. It’s dramatic, emotional, and probably not one for the 1 AM party AUX. —Tshepo Mokoena

Arin Ray - Platinum Fire

A few years ago, Arin Ray moved to Los Angeles without a record deal after being cut from The X Factor. “We Ain’t Homies,” a laid back single about fake friends, was an adaptation of the West Coast style that surrounded him. “Where were you when we were broke? / Eating Ramen Noodles from the corner store,” he sings, reflecting on harsher times. YG hops on the track, which seemed like a co-sign of Ray’s relaxed production. It was the first song Ray would record for his album, and what seemed like a preview to his new sound would prove to be more of a decoy. Instead, Ray journeyed through R&B’s lineage, grasping at a jazz-inspired approach for his debut album, Platinum Fire. The album is more mature than his 2016 EP, Phases, with the 22-year-old crooning over guitar strings and the sax instead of 808s. Here, he transforms familiar voices like Ty Dolla $ign (“Take”) and DRAM, bending their voices to fit his Sade aesthetic. “Communications,” a feature with DRAM, certainly conjures the soul of “Smooth Operator,“ as the two maneuver through romance with complete candor. “I love your taste, I love your wild, I love your confidence / And in return I know you need an honest man,” Ray sings. Platinum Fire is filled with transparency like the sweet chaos of “Stressin” and the freedom of “Old School,” and despite star-studded collaborations, Arin Ray is holding his own. —Kristin Corry

The Armed - Only Love

Who is The Armed? No, that’s the wrong question. What is The Armed? No, still not right. Why is The Armed? That’ll do for now. No one seems to have their story straight on this enigmatic Detroit collective. Maybe it’s the brainchild of hardcore mastermind Kurt Ballou of Converge. Maybe it’s a rotating group of artists, musicians, and anonymous pranksters. Maybe they aren’t real people at all. Maybe no one is in The Armed, or maybe everyone is—even you. Well, whoever (or whatever) birthed Only Love, they were on some next-level plane of existence. The record is a disorienting masterpiece of textured, carefully organized chaos, as perplexing as the band’s identity. It’s the product of people gone mad in the search of a greater understanding of love. Or something. There’s really no point in seeking answers, you’ll only end up with more questions. It’s best to just let the chaos enfold you. —Dan Ozzi

Bandhunta Izzy - Code Blue

Unless you pay attention to the ever-expanding world where new street rappers and cool kids who unrealistically harmonize about guns pop up every week, you might not know who Bandhunta Izzy is. The West Baltimore rapper is locally-cherished and started to gain some national footing for his ability to seamlessly put words together on whatever kind of production he faces. That was made evident on his Code Blue tape that dropped in January, the first project he released since signing to Universal Republic last year. On it, the 21-year-old barely veers away from what activities he got into while still on the street, but his drill-inspired approach entertains throughout its duration. His skills are most evident on songs like “In Love Wit da Trap,” “Murda Music,” and “FoReal.” —Lawrence Burney

Bernice - Puff: In the Air Without a Shape

The sophomore album from Toronto resident Robin Dann and compatriots materializes instead of announcing its presence, jazzy bass tentatively winding through toybox percussion. The twee-ness is an illusion, though, as In the Air Without a Shape is a supremely confident project with deliberate arrangement choices. It also feels like taking a bubble bath in a tube of xenon, all luminescent and airy. The ambient pop of “Passenger Plane” recalls Dntel’s indietronica classic Life Is Full of Possibilities, the sound of vulnerability meeting restless experimentation, while “St. Lucia” is a party of one that still bumps. Dann’s vision is strong and unclassifiable, and In the Air Without a Shape’s music is a boon to Canada’s indie scene. —Phil Witmer

Beta Librae - Sanguine Bond

The statement of intent on the debut full-length by New York producer Beta Librae comes from the title of its second track: “Just Drift.” Over the course of its nine explorations through the outer realms of house, techno, and the ambience that attends those borderlands, it does just that. There’s misty sample flips evocative of the cannibinoid atmosphere of the LA beat scene on “Skyla,” locked-in exercises in malleted percussion on “Canis Major,” and even straight up kosmische bliss on the closer “New Feelings,” all stuff that casts its eyes clearly to the sky. On tracks like the ten-minute-marathon “Cosmic Machines,” the record occasionally locks into skittering rhythms, but even the most forceful moments tend to be heavy-lidded and hypnotic, evocative more of the salty, oxygen-poor air above the dancefloor than the friction that’s generating all the heat down below. —Colin Joyce

Black Dresses - WASTEISOLATION

Your safety is a privilege. That’s one of the dominant thematic threads at play on the debut record by Black Dresses, a collection of staticky rages and raps about the state of the world which, as ever, remains existentially inhospitable for most and outright dangerous for those born without structural advantages that make it comfortable to, like, walk down the street without fear. Transmisogynistic violence, the ripple effects of trauma, and the general impulse toward self-annihilation are the sorts of things that Rook and Dizzy—a songwriter and producer who also records as Girls Rituals—grapple with here. The music largely rises to match such heavy concerns, radiating with bass lines and synth melodies as disruptive and brilliant as solar flares. But in the same way that Sleigh Bells and Crystal Castles always sounded like a person doing their best to fight their way through the heavy shit, Dizzy and Rook find some hope embedded in the chaos. Even at their most frayed, they feel triumphant, somehow. —Colin Joyce

Burna Boy - Outside

There are a few properties of music that help artists establish a lasting relationship with their fanbases. There are artists who make their mark by educating their audiences, forcing them to take tidbits of information and dig deeper. Some music forces self-reflection, much like JAY-Z’s 4:44 was credited for last summer. But some music has the power to make you drop whatever’s populating your mind so that all you have to focus on is enjoying it. There are quite a few songs on Nigerian superstar Burna Boy’s Outside that fit that description. “Ph City Vibration,” a celebration of his hometown Port Harcourt, doesn’t feel right if you aren’t jumping up and down in pure joy. “Sekkle Down” with J Hus is tailor-made for a romantic summer night dance. “More Life,” makes you thankful to be alive. End of year lists probably won’t reflect this, but some day in December, we’re gonna have to talk about how Burna Boy made a near flawless album that’ll be in rotation even after the calendar expires. —Lawrence Burney

Cadaver Dog - Dying Breed

The phrase “next big hardcore band” is paradoxical. Hardcore was never intended to be inviting, inclusive, or long-lasting. Hardcore, by design, is the primal scream of outcasts, and its antagonistic nature breeds only entropy. So when a hardcore band is celebrated for doing windmills and shilling Ray-Bans, it seems antithetical to the entire point of the genre. Cadaver Dog, on the other hand, stands in direct opposition to the commercial trappings of modern hardcore. Dying Breed was written and performed entirely by James Trejo, whose bulldog demeanor on stage is as unwelcoming as the lyrics he gnarls out. The album’s 15 songs are less concerned with solutions to society’s problems and are more focused on the selfish, violent nihilism they induce. At one point, Trejo ends a song by screaming “Get the fuck away from me,” and that might as well be the words to every song on Dying Breed. Cadaver Dog probably doesn’t belong on a list like this. Cadaver Dog doesn’t belong anywhere. —Dan Ozzi

Container - LP

Ren Schofield’s humbly named albums as Container are masterclasses in machine locomotion. Stripping the most jagged shards he can break off of a bank of analog synths and busted-sounding drum machines, his take on techno kinda feels like a junkyard version of those Boston Dynamics dogs. You know, those freaky faceless robo-quadrupeds that can open doors and will soon surely kill us all? His new LP has that same feeling to it: quietly dangerous, intimidatingly fast, full of unbelievable power built on firing servos and cold metal. —Colin Joyce

Cucina Povera - Hilja

The eight tracks that make up Cucina Povera’s debut album are nebulous in form and haphazard in construction, these wooly, ragged assemblages of jagged synth tones, staticky found samples, and the sound of her own voice. But like a lot of homespun experimenters, out of these humble means, she’s happened upon a sound that’s unlike virtually anything else. Though there’s echoes of other post-punk avant-gardists, there’s a feeling on Hilja that I don’t often hear captured—that of tentative optimism. You can hear it from the opening moments of the record, on “Demetra,” when swooning, low-fidelity synth lines swirl around her gentle intonations and percussive mouth sounds. It could be taken as depressingly monochrome, as the cover of the record suggests, but there’s something about the way the synths come back in after a brief vocal break that causes it to lilt slightly heavenward. This is generally how she moves through these collagist pieces, suffusing the complicated moments with brief joys. It’s a cloudy record, but the sun’s always burning right behind it, casting the bleak ambience in a strange, surreal light. —Colin Joyce

Dark Thoughts - At Work

Who knows what Lookout! Records’ roster would look like were it still around today. The Bay Area label’s trademark pop-punk sound splintered off after its dissolution. But it’s pretty safe to assume that founder Larry Livermore would’ve found room among the Queers and Riverdales of his catalog for Dark Thoughts. The Philly torchbearers deliver a 12-song blast of pure, uncut, three-chord punk rock on At Work—snotty, fast, and tight—just the way God (Joey Ramone) intended it. There are no frills, and nothing is overly complicated. In fact, Dark Thoughts aspire to be even less sophisticated, if possible, with songs like “I Wish,” which boasts: “I wish I didn’t know how to read… I wish I didn’t know what art was.” If Earth ever buries a time capsule and is in need of an official document of pop-punk, hopefully they’ll include 30 copies of this record and blast everything else into space. —Dan Ozzi

Hard to Kill - Hard to Kill

Teddy Fantum and G Milla are such a profoundly Toronto supergroup that even when they’re cooperating, “Screwface” surliness still emanates from the music. Much of the duo’s rapping is distorted in some way, sometimes forming part of the arrangement, even on hard-hitting singles like “Slime.” The tempos rarely stray above a heavy trudge. The overall atmosphere is clouded and forbidding. Yet, Hard to Kill is a good time, one of the most consistent Toronto rap projects in years and a capable musical spokesperson for the city’s distinct sound. Getting along has never sounded so wonderfully like strife. —Phil Witmer

Jeremy Dutcher - Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa

The idea of one’s history being erased is unthinkable for most, yet for the fewer than 100 speakers of Wolastoqey in Canada, it is a looming deadline. The generosity of Wolastoqiyik composer and vocalist Jeremy Dutcher recording an entire album in the language is just one part of its remarkability. Using decayed, century-old wax cylinder recordings of Wolastoqiyik traditionals as his songbook, Dutcher’s titanic orchestral arrangements and towering vocal performances send these nearly-forgotten folk songs to the heavens and beyond. Songs like “Mehcinut” and “Sakomawit” carry tremendous weight and emotion, even to the many who won’t understand the words being sung. Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa is an unprecedented piece of cultural archivism, and its revival of a dying tongue is an example of what music can tangibly do for humanity. —Phil Witmer

Kareem Lotfy - QTT10

Though he’s recently become an unlikely part of one of the year’s biggest records thanks to Kanye West’s chop-first-ask-questions-later approach to sampling, the Egyptian artist Kareem Lotfy has spent the last few years establishing himself as one of the underground’s most adventurous explorers of beatless emoting. His latest, part of the uniformly great new batch of tapes from the New York label Quiet Time, is full of the lush electronics he favors, overlapping dewy synth pads with more formless atonal moments, whirling between those modes and other more complicated ones with a surprising energy. There’s been so much great ambient music this year—and it's a genre that’s hard to be overtly critical of (like pizza, even the bad stuff is still pretty good)—but this release has some of the most lively moments that any producer of this sort of stuff has made in 2018. If most drones feel tidal, ebbing and flowing in obtuse, but ultimately predictable ways, Lotfy’s approach is more like the pools such motions leave behind, teeming with colorful life skittering over itself to take in the afternoon sun. —Colin Joyce

Laura Jean - Devotion

Did we need another piece of culture about Australian beach life? Probably not: Between Puberty Blues and its adaptations, every Tim Winton novel, and approximately 85 percent of Australian cinema, a lot of the canon has already been devoted to cultural products about What It’s Like To Live In A Small Australian Beach Town. But we should be grateful for Laura Jean’s Devotion anyway; despite its well-worn subject matter, Jean’s fifth solo album is a win. Built around a vintage Kawai synthesizer, Devotion is less a dazed nostalgia trip than it is a loving tribute to the naivety and innocence of adolescence in a regional town. Jean’s songs, with their sun-bleached melodies and chintzy synth lines, feel like forgotten radio hits from her teen years, daydreams of true love and furtive crushes. We probably didn’t need another album about Australian beach life, but Devotion is more than that. —Shaad D’Souza

Leila Abdul-Rauf - Diminution

It’s now almost a yearly occurrence that we’re gifted with a new recording from Bay Area musical polymath Leila Abdul-Rauf, whether that’s via her excellent death metal project Vastum, heavy metal misfits Hammers of Misfortune, or her other-worldly experimental solo work. This year’s offering, Diminution, is almost too lovely for words; as was noted in our stream, the album sees her channel urban loneliness and emotional blight via a combination of delicate guitar, brooding trumpet, textural drones, eldritch chimes, and her own spare, startlingly sweet vocal stylings, which float above the mire like newly freed souls. —Kim Kelly

Lolina - The Smoke

Inga Copeland’s second full-length as Lolina is the latest entry in a career-long argument of the idea that pop’s pleasures needn’t have high production values, recognizable structure, or even, necessarily, real hooks to exercise pure pleasures. The charms of The Smoke are instead, appropriately, hallucinatory, off-kilter, and discursive—eight songs that dive between neon synth programing, clattering drum machines, and distinct images that gleam for a moment before fading into the fog. Like all great twists on pop tropes, however, The Smoke remains extremely memorable. Even if trails to get there are hard to trace, Copeland’s melodies have the feeling of cannibinoid nursery rhymes, sticking in your head even after single dead-eyed utterances. It’s like a particularly vivid dream—you won’t be able to shake it anytime soon. —Colin Joyce

MIKE - Black Soap

MIKE is one of those rappers so full of heart that he makes you want to curl your fingers around his music to protect it from any possible harm. It’s as though he feels compelled to create, to write and deliver bars that peel back the layers of his inner thoughts. On Black Soap, his second long release of the year, he’s all about pride. The 19-year-old New Yorker spent three months in London, reunited with his mother after years apart and working on the project. In that time, he burrowed inside himself to pull out these songs, which demystify sadness, untangle the tendrils of identity as you grow older, and stoke the fires of self-love. From his mother, intoning a Yoruba prayer on opening track “Ipari,” to the multi-layered instrumentation courtesy of experimental collective Standing on the Corner, there’s plenty to explore. —Tshepo Mokoena

MOD CON - Modern Convenience

Modern Convenience, the debut album by Melbourne trio MOD CON, should have been more popular than it is. A sinewy, hair-raising punk record with Things To Say, it seems like Modern Convenience has gone kinda under the radar. Now’s your chance, then, to acquaint yourself with lead singer and guitarist Erica Dunn’s rasping, gripping turns of phrase, as well as god-tier drummer Raquel Solier and high torque bass player Sara Retallick. Spare and caustic as a group, the trio bare teeth on Modern Convenience, which oscillates between extended, bluesy abstractions and unadulterated anti-capitalist acid. These songs are not political in a day-to-day sense, with little referencing to the here and now. But that’s a good thing: it’s heartening to know that Dunn and co are lifers. It means there’s time for people to catch on. —Shaad S’Douza

Necros Christos - Domedon Doxomedon

German esoteric death metal iconoclasts Necros Christos have laid quiet (but not entirely dormant) since the release of 2011’s impeccable Doom of the Occult, and have finally sallied forth with its successor, Domedon Doxomedon, their third (and apparently final) full-length recording. The album hasn’t gotten quite the level of fanfare I believe it deserves, which is perhaps intentional; Necros Christos has always clung to the shadows, even as they’ve created some of the most compelling, massive-sounding death metal in recent memory. As I’ve noted previously, the album is a powerful document of occult death, and a fitting epitaph for one of the genre's mightiest titans. —Kim Kelly

OSHUN - bittersweet vol. 1

New York duo Niambi and Thandi are the “new goddesses on the block” who can rap just as well as they sing. After teasing their fans with singles like “Not My President,” and “Graduate,” their full-length project bittersweet vol. 1 is filled with affirmations and mantras that transcend music. They celebrate themselves on “Me,” declaring “Self love is all I need to find my inner peace.” Between the two, they draw from the neo-soul and R&B stylings of Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Lauryn Hill. When they aren’t promoting messages of manifestation and self worth, they’re honest about their shortcomings, as on “We’re Yung.” “Everything we’re taught not to do is everything we did,” they sing, a line that probably resonates way more than you’d like to admit. Here, the two fill the song with references to outer space, which is fitting as they try to conquer the unknown territory of relationships. bittersweet follows them as they navigate romance, and they’ve figured it out on “My World,” featuring Jorja Smith. The three blend seamlessly on a track about a love that feels endless, knowing no boundary of space and time. “You know I do, love loving you so I’ll give my whole world to you,” Smith sings on the hook. bittersweet vol. 1 is ethereal, ambitious, and a 37-minute voyage to OSHUN’s universe. — Kristin Corry

Petal - Magic Gone

Released mid-June, Kiley Lotz’s second Petal album Magic Gone, like all the best records, follows a tangible trajectory. It’s an album which documents profound personal realization, tracking the end of a relationship with another person, and the beginning of a new one for Lotz with herself (before making it, she came out as queer). It all plays out to the sound of fearlessly ambitious instrumentation which demonstrates Lotz’s rockstar chops: she’s destined to soon fill large rooms with these relatable stories of growth narrated by an affecting, clear-as-water vocal. Highlights include the gutsy guitar heroism of opener “Better than You,” “Tightrope”’s soft swell, and the Regina Spektor-nodding “Stardust,” but honestly if you like rock music and you’re worried it’s dead or whatever, just listen to this whole thing start to finish and feel reassured that it isn’t going anywhere. —Lauren O'Neill

Prison Religion - O FUCC IM ON THE WRONG PLANET

Since we now live in the world that Reagan-era sci-fi paranoiacs most feared, we need our own voices to worry about the calamities soon to befall mankind. Enter Prison Religion, a duo of self-styled extraterrestrials (from Richmond, Virginia, IRL) whose firm entrenchment on the cacophonous side of the noise-rap continuum provides an especially unsettling backdrop for their nigh-indecipherable expositions on the troubling state of things. “Nibiru,” for example, turns its eye toward an object of intense conspiracist scrutiny, a supposed planet lingering somewhere in the outer realms of our solar system, coming soon to Melancholia us all into oblivion. The track itself is both crushingly bleak and totally weightless, evocative both of the peaceful void of the world beyond our atmosphere and the impending doom that’s kinda lingering at the edge of just about everything these days. Parker Black (aka Poozy) and Warren Jones (aka False Prpht), yelp, moan, and squelch as the record goes celestial, proving that, yes, in space people can hear you scream. And it’s fucking terrifying. —Colin Joyce

Q Da Fool - No Competition

On the national stage, Rico Nasty—with her balance of raging rap and bubbly pop—is the DMV’s freshest voice being pushed right now, and deservingly so. But if you were to take a stroll anywhere between DC, Prince George’s County, Maryland, and even Baltimore, the artist you’re most likely to hear out of the area is that of rapper Q Da Fool. Q has been a DMV staple for the past few years for his feverish output, unorthodox delivery, and real life story that bolsters his lyrical content (You can spot him in Rico Nasty’s “iCarly” video and hear him mentioned on GoldLink’s “Roll Call”). On some songs, Q will go from harmonizing about being betrayed by friends, to rapping conversation-style about needing to stay out of legal trouble, to flowing double-time about his love for heavy artillery. At times, his music is a beautiful mess, and on January's No Competition, he further stamped why he’s poised to be the area’s biggest street artist since Shy Glizzy. —Lawrence Burney

Remember Sports - Slow Buzz

Remember Sports (formerly Sports) could very well have ended up dissolving before graduation. The Kenyon College classmates were tempted to hang up the band along with their caps and gowns and go down as just another college band that goofed around and made music that kids around town liked. But after a positive review in Rolling Stone, a name change, and a move from Ohio to Philly, the group is going full-force and have their third record, Slow Buzz, to show for it. And while the album has still got the youthful spark of a group of friends having fun, they get a little deeper here with songs about relationships ending and shedding emotional baggage—you know, grown-up stuff. —Dan Ozzi

Simian Mobile Disco - Murmurations

Since emerging with 2007’s breakout Attack Decay Sustain Release, SMD have defined themselves by nothing if not momentum. They’re stylistically singular and chameleonic, cooking up everything from dance pop, to experimental techno, to instrumental minimalism. Murmurations, the duo’s fifth album, is the first record to even hint at SMD’s nasty mid-00s bloghaus roots, but it’s less a return than an update that remains distinct from anything they’ve done before. The record is a collaboration with London’s Deep Throat Choir, whose sound SMD has described as akin to “working with an incredible new synthesizer," and it's an astute description indeed. Combined with the producers’ metallic beats and melodies, the choir’s all-female vocals give the tracks a chilling, phantasmal effect—true siren songs which, once you’ve settled into their surreal world, you can’t help but give yourself over to. —Andrea Domanick

Shuta Hasunuma & U-zhaan - 2 Tone

The virtuosic percussionist U-zhaan’s has made many works with Japan’s best experimentalists, but there have been few leaden-drones-turned-to-gold moments as 2 Tone, his new record with Shuta Hasunuma. Over the course of ten tracks, U-zhaan’s dextrous hand-drumming weaves melodically through Hasunuma’s florid electro-tapestries, making vibrant quiltworks out of minimal pieces. The duo bounce handily between different genres and forms, showing a vast range in their chosen instruments. On “Mixed Bathing World,” they explore fractalized rhythms that aren’t miles away from recent Four Tet experiments. “A Kind of Love Song” shows them as genteel balladeers, backing Devendra Banhart in one of his most straightforward performances in recent memory. Then there’s stuff like the flickering, glitchy “Green Gold Grey,” upon which no wave legend Arto Lindsay sings and splatterpaints languid guitar lines. “Sporty” bears a straightforward thump that makes it more or less dance music. All these sounds may sound disparate, but spun together by Hasunuma and U-zhaan, there is a certain coherence and logic to them. It’s a reminder that great collaboration will always make you want to believe in alchemy. —Colin Joyce

Smerz - Have Fun

The best parties are chaos. Don’t get me wrong: organization is good, and a chill event can be great, but I firmly believe that a party can only be really transcendent if it’s just a little bit hellish. This belief is probably why I love Have Fun, the latest record by Danish duo Smerz, so much. Billed as an EP but longer and more fully realized than, say, a recent GOOD Music album, Have Fun is a turbulent collage of apocalyptic, serrated electronic sounds that sounds like a party but feels an awful lot like the end of the world. Disorientating and delirious, I find myself listening to Have Fun at strange times––right before bed, on the bus, in the shower––almost as if to disrupt the most mundane parts of my life. The more I listen, the more I want to listen to it; even now, a while since I last listened, the irregular, stroke-inducing drums of opener “Worth It” are rattling around my brain. There is a kind of constant, overwhelming terror that’s present in Have Fun, but it’s not off-putting. The best parties, after all, are chaos. —Shaad D’Souza

Sudan Archives - Sink

It’s hard to pin down exactly which genre Sudan Archives fits into, and that’s just her point. The Ohio-born, LA-based artist draws from hip-hop, experimental music, and a tradition of North African folk for a sound that could only be created today. Sink’s six tracks are built on skeletal, often arhythmic frameworks of plucked violin loops and hip-hop beats, around which the self-taught musician pours her vocals and harmonies to bridge the electronic and the organic. Over it all, Sudan's rap-sung lyrics excavate her inner consciousness, from the slinking, defiant “Not for Sale” to rapturous closer “Escape.” Altogether, it proves Sudan Archives a formidable architect of both sound and spirit; in forging a path all her own, she encourages you to do the same. —Andrea Domanick

Tink - Pain & Pleasure

After the success of her Winter’s Diary series, eyes were on Tink, a promising Chicago vocalist who could rap as well as she could sing. After four years of being stuck in an uncompromising deal with Timbaland, Tink’s message for her newfound freedom was captured in the opener of her new EP, Pain & Pleasure. We find Tink on “On to the Next One” singing about a sour relationship, which could be interpreted as both personal and professional. This wasn’t the same 17-year-old we were introduced to in 2012. “Faded” is exactly what it suggests, a hazy song about that rattles off a number of drugs the couple indulges in before a night together. “I will never judge you for / Things you do behind these doors,” she sings. It makes you think twice about what you’re condoning, but Tink’s voice is so soothing, the song feels like a drug itself. Pain & Pleasure’s standout is “Part Time Lover,” a song that manifests the duality of the EP’s title. Merging her interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s song of the same name against Xscape’s “Who Do I Run To?,” Tink is unashamed of her affair, which ups the EP’s edge, slightly. “He got a girl and I got a man / When he ain’t around, I’m sneaking him in,” she raps. The autonomy on Pain & Pleasure feels like something Tink has been holding in for a long time. —Kristin Corry

Totally Mild - Her

Domesticity is supposed to be peaceful and sensible. Easy, even. Throughout the course of Totally Mild’s revelatory sophomore album Her, domestic life is anything but. In the eyes of lead singer and songwriter Elizabeth Mitchell, marriage is as uneasy and painful and weird as it is romantic. An expansive portrait of queer life after matrimony, Her takes the spare jangle-pop that characterised the Melbourne band’s debut record Down Time and pulls it in every possible direction. The production, by James Cecil, is glossy and unnerving: nauseating guitar lines warp and wobble, drums snap sharper and louder, meaning that Mitchell’s lyrics no longer have to do all the emotional heavy lifting. But Mitchell is in fine form here too––her voice, clear as a bell, has a Stepford chill that never fades even at the album’s most emotional. When she sings “I thought that I would want so many in my lifetime/ But now the only one is you”, on crushing highlight “Pearl”, it sounds as terrifying as it does thrilling. The past few years have seen both indie rock and marriage decried as flagging institutions. Her makes a case for the relevance of both. —Shaad D’Souza

Urfaust - The Constellatory Practice

The Netherlands’ most revered experimental black metal project and underground favorites, Urfaust, recently released a new album that’s pretty fucking weird—even by their own perpetually warped standards. The Constellatory Practice is a study in unsettling ritual ambient, stumbling doom, and off-kilter black metal, conveyed via the outfit’s trademark intoxicating aura. Even after 15 years on this cursed planet, there is still nothing else that sounds quite like Urfaust. —Kim Kelly

Vince Ash - Do or Die

Vince Ash is a 21-year-old rapper from Indiana who makes music that’s hard as hell. Do or Die, his debut project, is a fierce EP that would make Freddie Gibbs proud. Tracks like “Solid” and “6 Feet” are a thundering case for more young rappers to embrace a post-drill rap sound that’s both angry and exciting. The project is only 22 minutes long, but it doesn’t take much for Ash to show that he’s overflowing with untapped talent. Do or Die isn’t all pounding, aggressive energy though, as the rapper shows a more introspective side with “Thoughts,” a meditation on his own socioeconomic struggles. To put it simply, this is just extremely good rap music. —Eric Sundermann

Vundabar - Smell Smoke

Vundabar’s Smell Smoke sounds a lot like how it feels to be an American right now—careening, madcap, and messy. That’s in part because that’s a lot of what it’s about. Though the album took shape before 45 came into office, the long-anticipated release from the Boston garage duo offers a snapshot of the more lurking, quotidian forces at play that got us into this mess in the first place—that mess, of course, being the dystopian inversion of the American dream. Here, it's filtered through singer-guitarist Brandon Hagen’s experience with the mental and physical deterioration of a loved one, and the vertiginous loss of innocence that threatened to bring him down in its wake. Songs tackle everything from swallowed shame (“Acetone”) to the price of dying (“Big Funny”) to the Sisyphean nature of life under capitalism (“$$$”). Thing is, it’s also a whole heckuvalotta fun—and funny. On first listen, you’d actually be hard-pressed to find the heavy beneath its barrage of wiry melodies, reckless tempo shifts, and Hagen’s wily vocals and lyrics. But that paradox is also just Vundabar’s point—a white-knuckled ride you’d be wise to keep hanging onto. —Andrea Domanick