If you’re lucky, you’re not reading this at your desk. You’re on the slopes, the beach or the couch—still on vacation, soaking up the remains of the unofficial siesta that occurs each year between Christmas and New Year’s. As it happens, many of our favorite musicians are still on vacation, too, meaning there wasn’t much happening in the music world throughout the last seven days. However, we at Paste didn’t allow the slowed music news cycle to throw off our groove: We hosted Daytrotter sessions, revisited two overlooked albums from October and made it home for the holidays. Some artists, like The Avett Brothers and Twin Shadow, kept busy in the midst of the festivities and released great new tracks. Meanwhile, the finale of year-end list season is in sight, but before we can delete the Excel sheets and table our editorial bickering until next year, there’s still some last-minute business to attend to in 2018, including our roundups of best album covers, hip-hop albums and overlooked records from the year. Dig into all of that and more below.
Esperanza Spalding: 12 Little Spells
It would be easy to compare Esperanza Spalding to Bjork, or Joni Mitchell, or Kate Bush, but that implies that there can Only Be One. Instead, Spalding’s 12 Little Spells joins a long line of her goddess foremothers in their innovation. There’s something inherently beautiful about a woman singing to each piece of her, examining the complications of existing within the female skin, rather than focusing on the flaws the way magazines/makeup ads/Instagram influencers constantly harp about. “You can never be too magical,” she sings on “You Have To Dance.” It rises up with a subtle and glittering joy to join other anthems, including Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and fellow Prince protege Janelle Monae’s “Django Jane,” in celebrating the indomitable female spirit, Black Girl Magic, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and all those who aren’t afraid to get onto the floor with their best shoes on. This is not dinner jazz, but no one who picks up an Esperanza Spalding album expects it to be. Her voice and her bass are a listener’s guide on a tour with no map and no destination, but where wonders abound. —Libby Cudmore
Jamie Lin Wilson: Jumping Over Rocks
Let’s not waste words. Or avoid a play on words. Jumping Over Rocks represents a sizeable leap in Jamie Lin Wilson’s still budding solo career. It already took a certain amount of nerve—and verve—to leave an established band and venture out on one’s own. So credit Wilson with possessing the skill and savvy needed to successfully make the transition from her former folk co-op, the Trishas, and opt to go out alone. Happily, the risk paid off. Two albums in, Wilson’s quickly established herself as a knowing chronicler of heartache and hardship whose means of expression is a consistent sense of unflinching honesty. It becomes her means of looking at the life’s underside with all its its attendant sorrows. The centerpiece of this album, “Death & Life,” describes the void left by one man’s passing, as felt by a wife who grieves the loss of her late husband of 40 years some three years on, a son who struggles to carry on his father’s legacy and the children who make a game of skipping over headstones, equating hopscotch with the circle of life. Wilson’s mastered the art of combining insight and emotion, often a combination that’s difficult to achieve. As 2018 comes to a quick close, Jumping Over Rocks deserves last minute consideration as one of the best efforts of the year. —Lee Zimmerman
The Avett Brothers: “Trouble Letting Go”
The Avett Brothers have shared another new single in “Trouble Letting Go.” The song follows the November release of “Roses and Sacrifice,” the band’s first new single since 2016. The prolific bluegrass bros. made the announcement on Twitter, also sharing a behind-the-scenes video of Scott Avett. He takes us through past and present Avett artwork, including the album and single art for I and Love and You, True Sadness and “Roses and Sacrifice.” Lastly, Scott turns the camera for a glimpse of the art for “Trouble Letting Go.” “This is the reason that I’m making this video,” Scott says. “This is the artwork for our new song, ‘Trouble Letting Go.’” On top of their two recent tracks, the North Carolina-based foursome have continued to debut new material during live shows, including “Trouble Letting Go” earlier in the fall. It’s to-be-determined whether that means a new album soon, which would be their tenth record and their first since 2016’s True Sadness. —Cayla Bamberger
Supermercat: “Johnny Rack”
This week, Los Angeles trio Supermercat shared “Johnny Rack,” their second song ever released, following debut single “Egg.” The band describe themselves as “friendly punk with a dash of Sheryl Crow,” a description that sounds just about perfect. “Johnny Rack” has the pulsing energy of a road song with the sharp edges of a glammed-out punk song, like if someone took a flamethrower to Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” and covered the charred remains in spikes and glitter. Singer (and former Paste contributor) Alexa Carrasco’s jumpy vocal delivery is just about the best thing about the song. “Back to Johnny Rack / a stack of papers on his back / he gets an NDA from / everyone he ever met,” she sings, jumping octaves and beats like a muscle car shifting gears while the guitars pump interminably ahead beneath her. —Justin Kamp
Twin Shadow: “Broken Horses”
Twin Shadow has shared new single, “Broken Horses,” in two forms, the “Santo Domingo Edit” and the “Port Antonio Edit.” The differences between the “Broken Horses” versions are minute, if even there at all. The track has the same deep, trance-y bass hits that have infected most modern pop-radio hits, but without all the accompanying bombast that makes those songs feel hollow and soulless. Soul has long been Twin Shadow’s trump card, George Lewis Jr.’s heartsick croon bursting through the slick electro beats to pound at the door. “Broken Horses” ends up feeling like an untapped, unshaken branch of the tropical house tree, a spectacularly un-seasonal jaunt down a digital coastline in pixellated sand and surf. It sounds like a holiday spent away on a beach—both jolly and a little bit lonesome. —Justin Kamp
Frederick The Younger
Frederick The Younger, the groovy pop duo-turned-band hailing from Louisville, Ky., dropped in the Daytrotter Studio on Friday, Dec. 21. Everyone may have been winding down for the holiday weekend, but Frederick The Younger still brought their best game to their session. The band released their first LP, Human Child, in 2017, but they opted to play a few newer songs at Daytrotter including “Everybody Wants to Take You For a Ride” and “Everyone’s Changing,” both singles released this year.
Midwestern rockers (and brothers) Radkey know how to shred. They brought a taste of that guitar power to Daytrotter on Sunday, Dec. 23, making them the last studio session before the holiday, but there were no jingle bells to be heard of during their 14-minute jam fest. They played two of their 2018 singles, “Rock & Roll Homeschool” and “St. Elwood,” plus two older tunes, “Dark Black Makeup,” from their 2015 album of the same name, and “Love Spills” from Delicious Rock Noise, which is the perfect description for Radkey’s sound.
The 10 Best EPs of 2018
Quality over quantity, as they say. Just because EPs are shorter than LPs in length doesn’t mean they can’t pack just as much punch, and there’s something to be said for a really good one, a condensed work of art that leaves you wanting more. But the guidelines for an EP are becoming a little fuzzy. If it’s longer than 30 minutes, can it still be an EP? What about an LP that’s only 15-minutes-long…can that be an EP? And what if my favorite album of the year is actually an EP…that cool? The answer to all those questions is yes—we think. There’s no such thing as the album police, thank goodness, but all the works on this list are widely considered to be EPs, so we believe they warrant a ranking of their own separate from the best albums list. EPs are often a spilling-over of b-sides and demos from an artist’s most recent LP, but sometimes they just don’t contain enough material to constitute an album, or maybe they’re unfinished business. Lucky for us, several of the EPs on this list—including those by Stella Donnelly and Hatchie—are excellent debut releases, leaving us impatient for full-lengths. Oftentimes, the best EPs index rising new artists, and if this list is any indication, 2019 is going to be a great year for debut albums. —Ellen Johnson & Paste Staff
The 30 Best Album Covers of 2018
Album covers range from the stoic self-portrait or minimalist sketch to the grand, styled photograph or abstract, psychedelic motif. There’s no right or wrong formula to create a compelling album cover, but the ones that are the most striking tend to be the ones that compliment the music in a way that’s satisfying. Album artwork acts as a lens through which we can further understand the music and its aesthetic points of reference. From the Crosby, Stills & Nash tribute of boygenius to the blatant literalism of Ty Segall and the cosmic high art of Kamasi Washington, we take a look at the 30 new album covers that gripped us in 2018. —Lizzie Manno & Paste Staff
The 10 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018
It’s strange that we live in a world where Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Anderson .Paak and, most puzzlingly, Kanye West all released music in 2018, and not a single one of them is on this list. The Carters’ EVERYTHING IS LOVE has been largely overlooked in the year-end conversation, and we’re still over here trying to figure out what the hell happened to Kanye. Kendrick did oversee one of our favorite rap/hip-hop albums, the Black Panther soundtrack, but, for the most part, your Beyoncés and your Kanyes weren’t the ones making big moves this year (save for that “APESHIT” video, which we’ll be talking about for decades). In other words, 2018 was difficult to neatly classify. As best-of lists continue to flood our timelines, it’s becoming more clear that there’s not a real consensus for best album of the year, even though Cardi B and Pusha T are probably the most viable contenders from the hip-hop universe. Despite Kanye’s usual feuding and Drake’s gold rush of singles, hip-hop wasn’t about names this year. It was about stories. —Ellen Johnson & Paste Music Staff
The 15 Manchester Bands You Need to Know in 2019
Dozens of cities around the globe claim to be among the best music scenes ever, but few come anywhere near the musical lineage and glory of Manchester, England. Manchester was the home of the gritty Britpop of Oasis, the jangly college rock of The Smiths, the sensitive punk rock of Buzzcocks, the soaring New Wave of New Order, the euphoric baggy rock of The Stone Roses and the enigmatic electronic music of The Chemical Brothers. Home to the historic Free Trade Hall (depicted above), Tony Wilson’s Factory Records and Salford Lads Club, more recent acts have called the city home like Elbow, Doves, I Am Kloot, The Courteeners, The 1975, Everything Everything and more. From The Fall and The Bee Gees to Take That and The Hollies, there’s something for everyone in this storied Northern English town. As Morrissey once sang, “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for” and musicians continue to live up to that heady tradition. Fans of grime, rap and underground drum and bass music know the city as the U.K. mecca of those genres, while fans of pop and rock have seen names like WU LYF, Hurts and Blossoms spring to the forefront in the last few years. The city’s next generation of musicians show a lot of promise for 2019, and if there’s one thing that fans of Manchester City and United can agree on, it’s that something magical happens when Mancunians pick up a mic or guitar. —Lizzie Manno
10 Great Albums You Might’ve Missed in 2018
You know those albums that you had on constant rotation throughout the year, but as much as you talk about them and shove them in the face of your friends, they remain largely ignored? These are those albums. These are the diamonds in the rough that didn’t quite get the attention they deserve. These are the albums that were just as painstakingly-crafted as more well-known releases, but still feel like juicy secrets that only you know about. These are the records that flew under the radar and that make the current streaming-driven music landscape still feel like magic. These are the albums that would reinvigorate any cynical music listener who thinks that all the good stuff has come and gone. From the blue lo-fi pop of Free Cake for Every Creature to the grand psych-rock of Kikagaku Moyo and the gripping post-punk of Moaning, Paste chose 10 full-length albums, listed alphabetically below, that you probably missed this year and that deserve much more of the limelight. — Lizzie Manno & Ellen Johnson