Audia’s 10 Albums We Loved In 2018
We’ll get right to the point: there were so many original and boundary-pushing albums by female and non-binary artists this year, but we wanted to highlight a few that we thought were particularly special. From singer-songwriter Miya Folick’s powerful synth compositions to Tash Sultana’s dreamy future-and-past mashup to Gia Margaret’s ocean-in-a-thimble lyrics, we heard music this year that inspired, comforted, and challenged us. It kept us company, and sometimes it even made us dance.
Some of these records are the first full-length releases by artists who are heading in exciting new directions; others build on already-strong bodies of work to showcase impressive artistic growth. It’s safe to say that we can’t wait to see what all of these artists have in store for us, in 2019 and beyond. — Katherine Flynn
10) Angelique Kidjo — Remain In Light
After 38 years, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light is as culturally and politically relevant as ever. It’s a dorm-room fixture, an emblem of easily-accessible cultural capital, yet still subversive. We still need to ask ourselves, “Well, how did I get here?”
Well, actually, Angelique Kidjo has an answer. The Talking Heads could not have made that album without the influence of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, and the Beninese musician wants you to know that—and, she wants you to dance.
When Kidjo first listened to Remain in Light in 1983, she knew immediately that it was African music. She had moved to Paris to escape the communist regime in her home country of Benin, and was eager to soak up as much music as she could. When she proudly declared the album was African music, her contemporaries disagreed, giving all the credit to rock-n-roll.
To listen to Kidjo’s album is to witness a cross-continent, cross-century cultural conversation. Kidjo has claimed she wants to “Pay back the homage” that the Talking Heads originally gave to her homeland’s music. To her, the Talking Heads participated in “cultural expansion” rather than cultural appropriation (which she doesn’t believe in; she says it’s either expansion or stealing).
Kidjo’s Remain in Light feels less like a cover album than a reimagining. While the Talking Heads did give credit to Fela Kuti, their renditions of African rhythms were watered down for American audiences, while Kidjo naturally feels at home in the layered, polyrhythmic landscape, thick with brass and dynamic backing vocals. There is a real sense of artistic as well as cultural freedom: the songs take their own shape, with some tracks feeling like entirely new experiences, only becoming recognizable when Kidjo’s powerful voice breaks through the layered rhythms and heavy brass.
Byrne’s themes of government corruption, gentrification and globalization feel suddenly more genuine sung by Kidjo. Take “Listening Wind”, the story of Mojique witnessing his hometown drastically change with an influx of white Americans. As she does on other tracks, Kidjo brings in words sung in a language from her home country, more effectively centering the experience of a person of color than a white man in Manhattan ever could.
While the original album is totally danceable, Kidjo and her backing musicians sound like they’re having more fun. Where Byrne’s voice feels stilted, Kidjo elongates notes, and offers a much fuller range of sound. It is nearly impossible to resist shakin’ your booty on Kidjo’s “The Great Curve.” The music video, a mixup of dancing fan clips, is an unabashed celebration of African music and Black folks (I counted maybe three very short clips of white women).
In our current political climate of fake news and outright racism, coupled with the ageless issue of art by women and people of color not being given enough credit (or any credit at all), this “cover” album feels more urgent than ever. — Amelia Diehl
9) Tirzah — Devotion
Domino Recording Co.
The world of Tirzah’s Devotion can sometimes feel hermetically sealed, a space apart from the chaos outside. “Do you know, the silent treatment don’t stop me buggin’,” she admonishes on “Do You Know”, a track that can, at times, sound like a record stuck on loop. The minimalist songcraft and intentional glitchiness found throughout the album only serve to make the emotions expressed on Devotion all the more poignant and underscored.
In collaboration with her longtime musical partner, British composer and producer Mica Levi, Tirzah Mastin spins out beautifully minimalistic tracks on this follow-up 2015’s Make It Up EP. Devotion marks a new direction for Mastin; it’s less reminiscent of a club than a dark, quiet bedroom with the shades drawn. Songs like “Affection” are flat-out gorgeous, centering sparse piano chords and Mastin’s rich, low voice, while the more synth-and-beat-centric “Basic Need” sounds like it was plucked directly from 90’s R&B (not coincidentally, the era when Mastin and Levi first started collaborating). — Katherine Flynn
8) Slothrust — The Pact
The Pact opens with a declaration: “I do what I want,” and maybe that’s the spice of life for a band that’s been around since 2010. In their fourth full-length album, Slothrust dives deeper into what works, and stretches, just a little, into new territories. Their signature sound is still there—a little grungy, a little funky—but now the confidence is palpable: they know what they’re doing.
This album is full of catchy, sing-along-able lyrics over blues riffs, guitar solos, and a heavy dose of distortion. On “Peach”, the album’s first single, principal songwriter, singer, and guitarist Leah Wellbaum croons over catchy blues licks, before nearly shouting “But damn you’ve got the sharpest teeth and I am soft as a peach”. “Planetarium” is fast-paced punk anthem and features dazzling solos from Wellbaum, bassist Kyle Bann, and drummer Will Gorin. It’s a sexy instrumentalism—fast and loud and intricate—and it’s easy to forget you’re listening to a trio.
The biggest departure from their previous albums are the ballads. “Walk Away”, “The Haunting”, “On My Mind”, and “Some Kind of Cowgirl” are slower, more atmospheric, and full of vulnerability. In Slothrusts’s live shows, Wellbaum sheds her guitar during “On My Mind”, opting for just a microphone. Recently, on Instagram, she remarked: “Never thought I’d step out in front of my guitar & sing a ballad I wrote with [Frank Ocean] in mind but hey, give it up for growth baby!” (It should also be noted that “On My Mind” features a saxophone solo. Again, sexy.)
With The Pact, Slothrust stakes a flag in the ground somewhere between alt-rock and indie, declaring that they’re here to stay—that they intend to keep moving forward as a band that defies categories and genres, and that can at once be nostalgic and visionary. — Meagan Lilly
7) Laura Gibson — Goners
Goners indirectly confronts the death of Laura Gibson’s father when she was a teenager, and as anyone who has experienced a loss of that magnitude (especially early in life) knows, it never dissipates completely; it just changes and finds new forms, and sometimes new ways of manifesting itself. It’s everywhere on Goners, informing the storybook-like characters that Gibson creates and the birds and rivers and mountains that serve as the backdrop.
Goners is about the heaviness of grief and the actions one takes to both escape from and cope with grieving, but it never feels bitter or completely hopeless. Even when Gibson sings “All I know of hope is throwing stones into the void” (on “I Don’t Want Your Voice To Move Me”), or when she asks “Could you teach me to lose someone?”, you feel as though the act of making something from her pain is proof enough that the experience wasn’t for nothing. Ultimately the strength of Goners lies in its ability to make the fantastical familiar, comforting, and relatable. When Gibson said, “I left town, tucked myself into a mountain,” I felt that. — Katherine Flynn
6) Tash Sultana — Flow State
Mom + Pop Music
Tash Sultana, the 23-year-old Australian multi-instrumentalist, describes a “flow state” as “the term to refer to when you access a part of your mind known as your being, and you find something you are passionate about.” One might imagine it as a state of deep concentration, uninterrupted by email notifications, text pings or curiosity about what’s happening on Instagram. Something verging on bliss.
And much of Flow State, Sultana’s debut album, does feel like an escape. It’s a rich dream world, melding the wide-ranging influences of reggae, blues, R&B, and calypso—among others—to create a finished product that refreshes the listener. The album is guitar-heavy, but Sultana plays every instrument that appears on Flow State themselves, including saxophone, pan flute and piano. Tunes like “Seven” are shimmering chimeras, building gradually and circling back before changing form altogether. It’s an expansive view of what one visionary artist can do, and what pop music can be. — Katherine Flynn
5) Haley Heynderickx — I Need To Start A Garden
Mama Bird Recording Co.
If Haley Heynderickx needs to start a garden, she already has the seeds of a successful musical career, if not the maturing stalks: her debut studio album stands out as a promising bud in the crowded landscape that is female-led indie folk.
Heynderickx’s creative evolution is evident in this short but sweet LP; compared to her 2016 EP Fish Eyes, I Need To Start A Garden feels more confident in its spareness, as if she’s learned to trust the weight of her own voice and guitar. It takes a strong songwriter to bring you in with just a few notes, and Heynderickx’s presence does just that. Each song evokes a nostalgic and pastoral trance, grounded in intimate plucked guitar that melds with a crackly fuzz reminiscent of a comforting fire. Eventually, wavering harmonies emerge, and strings and trombone complement her poised and careful voice. The layered instrumentation is applied wisely; the minimal, melancholy layers on “Show You a Body” feel magical, like blotchy sunlight through the window, with the gem of a line “I showed you a body like a crowded garage.”
Maybe I’m projecting—I was tending a garden when I first heard this record—but the Portland-based songwriter seems invested in a self-intimacy and confidence that can be rare in music. Her voice comes off as amused, almost taunting (On “Untitled God Song,” her God is a “she”) and any vague romance or ambiguous “you” seem beside the point of her own curiosity and growth.
Songs build slowly, riffs become shovels that break the soil, letting her plant herself—and us—in her hauntingly beautiful world. Though the mellowness is reminiscent of bedroom folk/pop, Heynderickx very much has her hands in the dirt (just look at her, rolling up her sleeves in a sepia-tone sunflower field), confronting the unglorified, confusing parts of being a person (“I've barely been to college/And I've been doubtful/Of all that I have dreamed of” she sings on “Om Sha La La”) and celebrating the fun moments. It feels like she is pushing both herself and us out of the door, letting us bask in the bright sun of her self-awareness (“If you don't go outside/Well nothing's gonna happen” she croons on “Om Sha La La”. The FOMO is just as much about romance as it is about connection, or perhaps most importantly, self-growth). We meander through the garden of her mind, hear her pause to contemplatively pick a leaf, and witness her reach a break in the branches, comfortable in crescendos of her self-affirmation.
On “Worth It,” after questioning what it’s taken for her to get to this point, her own eagerness propels her forward. “Put me in a box”, “put me in a line”, she challenges, ultimately deciding that “Maybe I’m worth it.”
Later, on the catchy tune “Om Sha La La”, she can’t contain her own enthusiasm, nearly shouting “I need to start a garden! I need to start a garden!” Oh, she is. — Amelia Diehl
4) Miya Folick — Premonitions
Miya Follick gifted 2018 with one of the year's most impressive debuts in Premonitions, a record she hopes "reminds you that there is beauty in the details. Rainbows in your sprinkles. Drinking water from a hose. The way it felt to make a friend for the first time." During a year when we could all certainly stand to find the mundane more charming, Follick's self-proclaimed "domestic pop", about the joys of an Irish goodbye ("Leave the Party"), the importance of mental self-care that manifests physically—a drastic haircut and a long bath ("Stock Image"), and the overwhelming desire for a friend to shut the fuck up about a boy who doesn't deserve the attention ("Stop Talking"), all feel welcomed, vital even. Her lyrics are both intensely personally and wholly relatable, and she sings them over an undeniably catchy collection of 10 songs, richly crafted by seasoned producers Justin Raisen and Yves Rothman.
When it comes to Follick, it's all about that voice. It's easy to liken her vocal prowess to powerhouses like Bjork, Dolores O'Riordan, Florence Welch, etc., and her classically-trained pipes are some of the most promising, and arresting, in the business. The California-based singer told Stereogum she named the record Premonitions because she wanted a title that sounded classic, like “something Fleetwood Mac would name their album." If Stevie Nicks was a 20-something in 2018, she'd likely be spinning this modern classic, chopping off her feathered hair, and soaking into a big ol' tub after leaving the goddamn party. — Amanda Koellner
3) Caroline Rose — LONER
New West Records
If I had a job opening for an acerbic social media manager to promote my brand exclusively through biting sarcasm and throwback pictures of Justin Timberlake from the ‘90s, I would hire Caroline Rose in a heartbeat. 2018’s LONER finds her ditching the roots rock of her earlier releases in favor of a more genre-agnostic take on pop and punk, as well as a tongue-in-cheek approach to singer-songwriter confessionalism. “I did it for the money,” she sings, deadpan, in “Money”; on “Soul No. 5”, she confesses, “I like to hit ‘em and quit ‘em, that’s just my style.” It’s refreshing and, frankly, inspiring to hear Rose be so brash.
On the album’s second half, however, the narrative changes a little. “Getting To Me” features a plucked-string arrangement that conveys a touch more anxiety and vulnerability, and on “To Die Today”, a more low-key and cautious version of Rose emerges. As a comprehensive work, LONER confronts the gaps between a bold online persona and a real personality; between feeling objectified and being sexually empowered; and between confronting real issues and exaggerating them for comedic effect. Rose is an extremely of-this-moment artist, and she is all the more essential for it. — Katherine Flynn
2) Hop Along — Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Frances Quinlan’s narrative and endlessly creative songwriting is at the forefront of her band’s fourth studio release, but on Bark Your Head Off, Dog, more than ever before, the full band—which includes Quinlan’s older brother, Mark—creates a busy sound that challenges you to follow all of its intricacies. “How Simple” is brisk and swift-moving, a quick and efficient map of Quinlan’s anxieties; “How You Got Your Limp” and “What the Writer Meant” showcase burbling string arrangements and Quinlan’s voice, which shreds as insistently as any of the guitars. “The Fox In Motion” jitters and rattles along, reaching for a home-run catharsis that it catches up to in a last-minute crescendo.
Quinlan’s work is important because it reminds us that narrative, third-person songwriting can be just as affecting and essential as the more confessional first-person kind; that there’s a power and immediacy in tapping into someone else’s experience, real or imagined. With Bark Your Head Off, Dog, Quinlan cements her place as one of our most innovative musical storytellers. — Katherine Flynn
1) Gia Margaret — There’s Always Glimmer
The strength of Gia Margaret’s debut album lies in how much power it gives to small, otherwise ordinary moments. Leaving your coffee black, letting a partner buy groceries and open the blinds for you when you don’t have the strength to do it yourself—these are just a few of the actions that There’s Always Glimmer enshrines as being much weightier than they might initially seem. Gia Margaret is an exacting storyteller, overlaying her finger-plucked melodies and understated electronic elements with gentle vocals that pack an outsized punch.
Margaret, a classically-trained pianist, describes her music as “sleep rock”, which is apt but maybe too modest. The music is mellow, yes, but this moniker belies the currents of emotion and their corresponding energy that run throughout There’s Always Glimmer like undersea cables. By the time you reach album closer “West”, laid against a backdrop of gentle static white noise, you feel as though you’re waking from one of those dreams that you immediately wish you could go back to. — Katherine Flynn