So far, 2018 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the album as a medium for artistic expression, and the summer months have been no exception with tons of great LPs released every week.
I don’t think I’ve been this excited about discovering and consuming new tunes since music as a concept arguably reached its peak in March of 2015 thanks to Kendrick and Sufjan. Part of that might have to do with the fact that it’s actually part of my job to pay attention to this stuff now, but regardless, I’ve struggled to keep up with a rapidly expanding backlog of current music.
In 2018, female-fronted emo — the good midwestern kind, not the bad mall-goth kind — projects are rising in popularity. The defacto sound of the genre has shifted from much celebrated emo revival bands like The Hotelier, towards indie power-pop acts like Hop Along and Camp Cope. Standing out among the rest is Snail Mail with her new record Lush, released on June 8.
Snail Mail is the alias of guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Jordan, who has compiled an album of sparse and sombre little songs perfect for a rainy day. Lush has received widespread acclaim since its release, and after listening to it, it’s easy to see why. Snail Mail combines the sounds of indie legends like Pavement and Built to Spill with the lyrical tropes characterized by emo music en masse.
Lush does away with the hardcore part of emotional hardcore but still retains the genre’s markings. Album standouts like “Pristine” and “Heat Wave” expertly walk a thin line between tension and release. Each of the tracks on Lush manages to build to catharsis without ever shaking the feeling that you’re listening to a private garage-band rehearsal.
If Lush is an album best experienced through headphones during a walk on an overcast day, then Playboi Carti’s SoundCloud magnum opus Die Lit is most effective blasting through trunk-rattling, aftermarket speakers in the back of your buddy’s beat up Honda Civic. It’s fitting that the cover depicts a mosh pit, as this album signals the arrival of an aggressive new form of punk-flavoured party rap.
My own interest in hip-hop peaked during the apex of the era of Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples — two lyrically adept rappers who built compelling concept albums while wading into pointed social commentary and the poetic nature of the genre.
Carti accomplishes nothing of the sort here, instead opting to lean into the vitality — and the virality — that has been driving underground trap music for the past decade. At times, the young ASAP Mob affiliate seems unconcerned with rapping altogether.
Instead, Carti serves as a tour guide through a sonic dimension full of inventive ad libs, wonderfully nonsensical phrases coined and retired within the length of a song, and otherworldly beats provided by collaborator Pierre Bourne.
In the current climate of Vinestar-rapper hybrids, Carti makes music that resonates with me while other SoundCloud creators have left me cold. Die Lit is overflowing with inventive ideas and only requires you to embrace its own tilted interpretation of what constitutes good music in order to unlock its secrets. It takes a listen or two to get it, but the rewards are worth it.
Nothing’s Dance On The Blacktop was released on Aug. 24 and proves to be an instant modern-shoegaze classic. The band’s first release since the well-hyped but quickly forgotten Tired of Tomorrow in 2016, Nothing has resurfaced with their finest work to date.
The lived experience of Nothing front man Dominic Palermo hangs heavy over the band. After playing in various hardcore bands and enduring a two-year prison sentence for stabbing another individual during a fight, Palermo presumably returned to music with a desire to create real beauty as a means of reformation through Nothing.
Singles from the album, like “Zero Day” and “Blue Line Baby” highlight the band’s signature style, which owes as much to shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine as it does to hardcore heroes like Converge. Towering over the rest of the tracks at nearly eight minutes long is “The Carpenter’s Son,” a brilliantly atmospheric slice of shimmering alt-rock.
The band has come close to realizing its potential a handful of times, but the tracks that comprise Dance On The Blacktop finally make good on the promise contained in their debut. Like all of Nothing’s music, there is an underlying current of suffering and emotional turmoil, but they’ve never sounded as transcendent as they do on this record. Nothing is good, Nothing matters.
Regardless of whether you’re into anarchic SoundCloud chaos or moody guitar-driven indie music, the best albums of summer 2018 have plenty to offer listeners of all different stripes.
Cole Chretien / Culture Editor