Though it’s sometimes easy to get down about what’s happening on a global scale in the world around us, the minutia of an artist, an album, or a song can be a saving grace in our day-to-day lives. Music has never been able to fix what’s wrong with the world, but sometimes it feels like it can fix what’s wrong with us, at least for that moment, for that day.
Most people who listen to music obsessively are using it to prop themselves up, to create a world that’s a little bit different than the one outside their headphones, to remind themselves not only of who they really are deep down, but also, who they want to be. In service of that mindset, here are the best albums of 2018 so far, may they afford you some small amount of courage or respite in a world that can feel increasingly chaotic.
50. Jack White, Boarding House Reach
In 2018, Jack White could have easily dialed up the fuzz pedals, plastic guitars, and vintage amplifiers and made a record that gamely played to fans greatest expectations of what he should be doing. But that’s never been his M.O. Instead, he enlisted some of the best touring hip-hop instrumentalists in the game, whipped on an Eddie Van Halen-series Wolfgang guitar and scoped out some of the more eclectic sounds gracing the airwaves in the 21st century. Sometimes it works like on “Over And Over And Over,” “Respect Commander,” and “Why Walk A Dog.” Sometimes he misses the mark a little, like on “Ice Station Zebra” or the superfluous “Abulia And Akrasia.” That being said, it’s never disinteresting, and a massive upgrade over his last, yawn-inducing record Lazaretto.—Corbin Reiff
49. Brandi Carlile, By The Way I Forgive You
Brandi Carlile is the kind of songwriter who makes you want to hold a song up to the light, and see what powers its inner workings; the self-titled track on her latest effort carries the torch for a 2007 breakout stunner, “The Story,” both of which can devastate you with a single listen. For over a decade her poignant, gutwrenching pen has flooded the genre of country/folk/Americana with songs that bend these ancient forms to fit her own will. A fantastic storyteller, Carlile is more often than not relaying a tale of heartbreak. Her latest is no different, but stick around for the phrases that over balmy forgiveness, despite it all.—Caitlin White
48. Say Sue Me, Where We Were Together
South Korea’s Say Sue Me may be the latest in a long line of C86 upstarts, but it’s a form that more than 30 years after emerging still finds room for young songwriters to explore yearning and loneliness. It helps that this album can deftly oscillate between celebratory and melancholy, using familiar indie jangle to showcase remarkably sturdy songwriting. Even in this well-established genre, Say Sue Me sound undeniably fresh and inspired.—Philip Cosores
47. Thunderpussy, Thunderpussy
If Thunderpussy haven’t been on your immediate radar quite yet, that’s fine, but you should seriously should take notice now. The group hails from the storied cradle of incredible rock music, Seattle – they even got Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready to lend his significant chops to one of the best songs on their self-titled album, a raucous track titled “Velvet Noose” – and with their debut, self-titled mark, have already notched one of the best new rock albums to come out of the city in years. Lead singer Molly Sides can wail with the best of them, while Whitney Petty shreds guitar like an absolute demon. Check out the song “All In,” a slow-burning swank the grows in intensity and volume with every passing second.—Corbin Reiff
46. Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel
Barnett may often get the “slacker rock’ label fixed on her, but the connotation there, as unintentional as I’m sure it usually is, is that her songs are easy or lazy. That is true in the sense that listening to them is a joy that presents no challenges, but it’s inaccurate because you don’t just fall backward into songwriting like this. Barnett is one of the best rock songwriters of the day, and you don’t reach that point by slacking off.—Derrick Rossignol.
45. Rhye, Blood
Five years after releasing an acclaimed debut, Los Angeles-based Rhye’s return is every bit as sultry while increasingly refined. Trading bedroom production for more live, warm instrumentation, Blood pumps with the confidence of a touring juggernaut, rightfully shifting from something you’d call a project to what you’d call a band.—P.C.
44. Brothers Osborne, Port Saint Joe
These laconic country bros look like a cross between Chris Stapleton and Luke Bryan, and jam out like the Zac Brown Band without the Jimmy Buffet affectations. But no matter their love for southern-rock guitar heroics, they always balance pop songcraft with heartfelt integrity.—Steven Hyden
43. Leon Bridges, Good Thing
Leon Bridges’ musical palette has been expanded beyond reproductions of his forebears’ dusty old vinyl R&B. Now, he’s reframed his sound to encompass abstract, impressionistic versions of his best work. He’s sprinkled in a little disco (“You Don’t Know”), country (“Beyond”), jazz (“Bad Bad News”), blues (“Mrs.”), and hip-hop (“Shy”). That honey-dripped voice is the common thread, tying together these seemingly disparate sounds into a tapestry of genres and eras that brings Bridges’ old soul into the future, cementing his spot in the modern-day pantheon of stars. —Aaron Williams
42. Alela Diane, Cusp
A Portland folk veteran at this point, Alela Diane has been through it all. Frequently backed by a band from her past known as The Wild Divine, that phrase encapsulates the kind of freeform, heavenly melodies that Diane has built her name on. Here, it’s just Alela, writing spare, somber piano songs about the realities and miracles of motherhood, and searching deep within herself and the natural world for the emotional edges that only show up under the strength of a gaze this powerful.—C.W.
41. Jonathan Wilson, Rare Birds
If his work producing Father John Misty isn’t enough indication that Wilson brings an uncommon ambition to lush indie rock, just looking at the Rare Birds tracklist ought to do it. Six of the thirteen tracks are over six minutes long, and only three of them dip under five. Wilson uses the time to explore Pink Floyd psychedelia, neo-Americana in the vein of The War On Drugs, and other worthwhile moments in time that Wilson is able to navigate with supreme confidence and ability.—D.R.