Maura Johnston’s best albums of 2018
“Exorcism” Swedish electronic producer Jenny Wilson’s arresting fifth album is a close-to-the-bone account of a sexual assault and its aftermath. Early tracks like “Rapin’” and “Lo’ Hi’ ” are mesmerizing compositions that, through their dizzying production and Wilson’s bluntly evocative lyrics, illuminate the human wounds lurking beneath so many #MeToo-era headlines. But as its title implies, Wilson is “ready for this fight”; she takes on the patriarchy with jagged synths and urgently yelped lyrics, as well as the knowledge that opening herself up in the face of incomprehensible cruelty is a truly daring act of defiance.
“Honey” Since her earliest singles, released when she was a part of superproducer Max Martin’s pop assembly line, this Swedish singer and producer has struck out on her own path, an idiosyncratic journey chronicled in her weepiest and most pugilistic hits. On her first album since 2010’s “Body Talk,” Robyn traces her journey out of grief’s depths; the glittering opener “Missing U” uses sonic space to mirror the emptiness that inevitably accompanies mourning, with her fits-and-starts moving on finally jelling when she hears the storied thump of Lil Louis’s 1989 club-crossover hit “French Kiss,” as sampled on “Send to Robin Immediately.” “Honey” embraces — at first reluctantly, then fully — the idea that living life to the fullest is the best way to honor those who are gone.
“Ventriloquism” The bassist-vocalist returns to her youth for this heady collection of covers, which spans the glorious period in the ’80s and ’90s during which freestyle, New Jack Swing, and funk were smack in the middle of pop’s mainstream. (Were we ever so young?) Ndegeocello is both faithful and reinventive toward her source material, turning Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “I Wonder If I Take You Home” into a flinty rave-up and stretching the System’s plush love jam “Don’t Disturb This Groove” to its afternoon-delight limits. A loving tribute to soul’s past that also charts a course into its future.
Say Lou Lou
“Immortelle” Australian-Swedish sisters Elektra and Miranda Kilbey headed to Los Angeles to make their second full-length, which builds on the promise of their fizzy early singles by maxing out the sonics and upping the brooding quotient. Come for their storming cover of the Church’s “Under the Milky Way”; stay for their gloriously brooding originals like the swooning “Phantoms” and the shimmying “Golden Child,” which revel in a grandiosity that combines the latticework guitars of Fleetwood Mac and the charging strings of Bond themes with the chilly, twinned vocals of the Kilbey siblings.
Daphne & Celeste
“Daphne & Celeste Save the World” At the turn of the century, Celeste Cruz and Karen “Daphne” DiConcetto were operating on the edge of teenpop, their most notorious moment coming from the exceedingly negative reception they received from the rockist hordes at UK music festivals. A few years ago, they returned, releasing the sublime “You and I Alone,” a skeletal ode to falling in love (with someone’s taste in pop culture) produced by electropop wizard Max Tundra. Their full-length is a garishly absurd sugar rush, Tundra’s wall-to-wall synths laying the ground for the pair harmonizing anti-acoustic-guitar-bro sentiments on “B.B.” (“basic busker”) and charmingly goofy potted-plant adoration on “Song to a Succulent.”
Christine & The Queens
“Chris” Héloïse Letissier’s live shows and videos are all about pairing undulating grooves with smooth movement. On Letissier’s second album as Christine & the Queens, the French singer-producer embraced her dude-presenting alter ego “Chris,” which led to the music she made getting, as she told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe, “bolder and stronger [with] more muscle”; but this exploration of her masculine side didn’t hamper Christine & the Queens’ devotion to getting down one bit, as this album’s rubbery bass lines and robot-rock beats prove.
“Record” For her first album in eight years, the English singer, songwriter, and author paired her rich alto with pointillistic lyrics about 21st-century life, keeping its emotions aloft with club-ready beats and Thorn’s pop-lifer resilience. “Sister,” her duet with fellow Brit Corinne Bailey Rae, is a stretched-out shoutout to any woman who has had to put up with everyday life’s casually cast slings and arrows, while the half-witty, half-elegiac “Face” might be the best song yet about those regretful late nights when an extra glass of wine occasions a scroll through social media’s parade of hyperpresented selves.
“Interstate Gospel” Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley have all made individual marks in country music, releasing sterling records that update and honor the traditions laid down by Dolly and Loretta. But as Pistol Annies, the trio are an overwhelming force, crafting stories about women on the brink that are sent aloft by their precise harmonies and dark humor.
“Isolation” This Colombian-American singer-songwriter first made her mark on pop in the early 2010s — her simmering Miguel collaboration “Caramelo Duro” was 2018’s shoulda-been song of the summer — and her debut album is a sparkling, genre-agnostic showcase for her lithe voice, dipping into shimmering girl-group aesthetics on the starry-eyed “Flight 22,” basking in guitar drones on “Tomorrow,” and riding the freestyle-revival rocket on the sweetly vicious “Dead to Me.”
“Across the Meridian” The aesthetic of this long-running English band has always felt somewhat trapped in amber — think scratched records meant to be played along with dusty instructional filmstrips, their fantastical orchestrations and blasts of brass designed to sharpen even the most warped sepia image. Their first album in more than a decade picks up almost seamlessly where they left off, with songs like the drowsy “Ladder to the Moon,” the snaky “Sailing Stones,” and the luminous “Mayfly” sounding like space-borne transmissions from a world that threw together ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s visions of pop music’s future for kicks — and then realized that it was way better than whatever Earth had been up to.
Local artist pick
“The Tree” For years, Stoughton-based songwriter Lori McKenna has been one of Nashville’s go-to songwriters, winning a Grammy for co-writing Little Big Town’s script-flipping “Girl Crush” and working on smashes for country stars like Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood. On her gorgeous 10th album, she focuses on the homefront, with the stunning “A Mother Never Rests,” distilling the mother-child relationship’s complexities, and the bittersweet “You Can’t Break a Woman,” on which McKenna’s weary vocal underscores its love-lost story.
The Boston Globe may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers.