Chloe X Halle
Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images Portrait
Chloe X Halle, Kacey Musgraves, Jack White: Favorite 2018 Album (So Far) | Poll
With the close of tax season approaching (current mood: ugh), it officially signals that the first quarter of the new year is in the books. BTW: How are those resolutions coming along?
Resolutions aside, it also gives us an opportunity to take stock in the opening salvo of new releases in 2018. As you've likely noticed, there's been a whirlwind of activity: surprise releases, top-charting soundtracks, returns from GRAMMY winners, and new tuneage from up-and-comers.
Here are 15 new album releases that have caught our eyes and ears — but we want to know: Which new album released between January and March is your favorite album of 2018 so far? Cast your vote!
Joan Baez, Whistle Down The Wind
About as pretty as can be, Joan Baez's career-topping studio finale has a perfectly rendered quality that brings it straight to the heart. The guitar sounds in particular capture higher frequencies that always seem to land just right, while her mellow vocals make songs such as "Be Of Good Heart" and "Last Leaf" enveloping. The light of this Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient always shines, but on this album it is bright with new power. It all makes for a chilling final high note for an artist who has spent her life interpreting the acoustic American blues known as folk. — Philip Merrill
Black Panther: The Album, Various Artists
What's there to say that can encapsulate the cultural moment surrounding the release of the film Black Panther and its acclaimed Kendrick Lamar- and Top Dawg-curated soundtrack? The film now holds the title of being the highest-grossing superhero film of all time in domestic box office sales, while the soundtrack is still charting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 six weeks after debuting in the top slot. With awesome features by The Weeknd, 2 Chainz, ScHoolboy Q, SZA, Khalid, James Blake, and more, it's your own fault if you haven't given this monster a listen by now. — Brian Haack
Toni Braxton, Sex & Cigarettes
On her Def Jam Records debut, Toni Braxton proves that there's another seductive combination at play aside from the album's title: exquisite vocals and vintage R&B heartbreak. As indicated by the album's racy cover art, the "Un-Break My Heart" singer is holding nothing back. There's pain over an ex-lover in "Long As I Live," acoustic-based optimism with "Deadwood," the expletive-laced slow jam "FOH," and the bittersweet "My Heart," the latter featuring Colbie Caillat. Braxton's passionate delivery throughout carries the melodies to new levels of satisfaction, proving she still reigns as one of R&B's queens. — Tim McPhate
David Byrne, American Utopia
It'd be ridiculous to expect Talking Heads' frontman David Byrne to release the usual aging-rocker record, light on statement and heavy on convention. Still, American Utopia surprises the way a lucid dream feels too real to be fake and too surreal to be true. The 10-track LP's pulsing soundscapes and poignant poetry collide to create a far more accurate snapshot of the times we're in than should be possible for someone who began shaping music, culture and fashion 40 years ago. On American Utopia, Byrne groans, gyrates and shines in the modern light much closer to the spirit of David Bowie's Blackstar than anything released of late by his other '70s contemporaries. — Nate Hertweck
Brandi Carlile, By The Way I Forgive You
Always a powerful singer, GRAMMY nominee Brandi Carlile is not afraid to holler, wail or fail. Taking her voice to an extreme that nicely blends with her emotional intensity and the production's symphonics, Carlile really lets go on By The Way I Forgive You — just take one listen to the likes of "Every Time I Hear That Song" and "Party Of One." The Americana singer/songwriter's strong independence stays thematic and the aging part feels real but very secondary to meeting life's demands and still having a heart at the end of it. — P.M.
Chloe X Halle, The Kids Are Alright
Since garnering the attention of none other than Beyoncé and subsequently signing to her Parkwood Entertainment label in 2015, Chloe X Halle have been on an uphill trajectory. With their debut album, The Kids Are Alright, the Atlanta duo prove they can stand on their own talents. The 16-track LP, including tracks such as "Hello Friend," "Hi Lo," "Down," and "If God Spoke," introduces wider audiences to Chloe X Halle's phenomenal R&B harmonies. And as Pitchfork wrote, "Their musical style is fearless, reshaping pop and R&B in their own images until even the highest-profile co-signs seem beside the point." — Renée Fabian
Lucy Dacus, Historian
On her sophomore album, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter from Richmond, Va., finds her balance of humor, soul, angst, and beauty. Historian simultaneously manages to demand to be taken seriously and to endear us with its lightheartedness. Lucy Dacus' casual delivery can turn into an emphatic plea and covers a fair amount of ground in between. With a successful SXSW behind her and a world tour underway, 2018 is shaping up to be a big year for one of rock's most promising young songcrafters. — N.H.
Nipsey Hussle, Victory Lap
Inspiring rap comes in several varieties, but some albums like Hussle's take it to a familiar but rare level. If you listen, you will feel played with, you'll have a good time and you will time travel. With guests such as Diddy, The-Dream, Cee Lo Green, and Kendrick Lamar — a collective with two dozen GRAMMY Awards collectively — you might think someone believes Hussle is a big deal, or more aptly: the real deal. With triumphant tracks such as "Grinding All My Life," "Dedication" (featuring Lamar) and "Loaded Bases" (featuring Green), Hussle knocks it out of the park on his debut LP. — P.M.
Judas Priest, Firepower
Four decades and change after their debut, Judas Priest are proving they still have more than enough heavy artillery in their aural arsenal. Indeed, Firepower, the GRAMMY winners' 18th studio LP, has been warmly received by fans and critics alike, with The Guardian praising it as a "return to their classic late-'70s and early-'80s Priest sound with a pinch of salt." With his patented scowl in fine form, frontman Rob Halford spices up hard-driving cuts such as "Lightning Strike," "Traitors Gate" and the title track, with extra mojo courtesy of the dual guitars of Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner. "Priest is holding the torch for British heavy metal and passing it on. That's exactly where we're at now as we hurtle towards our 50th anniversary in 2019," Halford told Revolver. — T.M.
MGMT, Little Dark Age
Rock band MGMT — comprising multi-instrumentalists Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser — are back with their first album in five years, Little Dark Age. The 10-track album sees the band returning to more of a hybrid rock/pop aesthetic from their previous two LPs. Take, for example, tracks such as "When You Die" or "Me And Michael," an infectious tune that VanWyngarden told Q magazine was designed to be "a catchy song that gets you pumped up, but you have no idea what the message is." As a result, Little Dark Age gives fans a return to what MGMT does best: creating "an off-kilter, challenging and very addictive album." — R.F.
Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
"I wondered: is there a world where Daft Punk meets country?" Kacey Musgraves pontificated during an interview with London Evening Standard. By fusing traditional sounds with modern embellishments on her shiny new LP, Golden Hour, it seems Musgraves already knows the answer. The playful "High Horse" recalls the '70s disco flavor of Studio 54 with elastic Bee Gees-style touches, but with a side of twang. Meanwhile, tracks such as the airy "Butterflies" and beaming "Rainbow" showcase Musgraves' penchant for old-fashioned country-style introspection. It all makes for a "delightful" experience, per Consequence Of Sound. Or as the GRAMMY winner put it, Golden Hour is "pedal steel and banjo and organics but crossed with all this crazy s***!" — T.M.
Easily one of the year's more pleasant surprises so far, the future-positive psychedelic pop group Superorganism came across our radar early this month thanks to some deep digging into the most-Shazam'd artists at SXSW 2018.
According to their origin story, this is a band that was founded largely thanks to the power of internet memes and Skype calls. Jointly hailing from New Zealand and the U.S., all eight members of Superorganism now call London their home base. Their self-titled debut sounds a bit like the Moldy Peaches, if they were produced by Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips. It's chock full of ear candy, zany samples and catchy melodies — all imbued with a sense of childlike wonder. — B.H.
Justin Timberlake, Man Of The Woods
For his fifth studio album, Justin Timberlake traded in his "Suit & Tie" for something much more outdoorsy: Man Of The Woods. While it may seem like an unexpected turn of events, the album's title has a sweet connection. Silas, Timberlake's son's name, means "man of the woods." Musically, the 16-track album touches on an impressive array of genres, including R&B, pop, dance, soul, and Americana. "Filthy," for example sees the GRAMMY winner electrifying some funk, while "Say Something," a duet with Chris Stapleton, taps into a little bit of country rock. For all the musical adventure on this album, not only is it an enjoyable ride, but if you believe Variety's Chris Willman, it's "one crazy peanut butter cup of an album." — R.F.
Erika Wennerstrom, Sweet Unknown
The debut solo project from Erika Wennerstrom — frontwoman for the acclaimed garage rock act Heartless Bastards — manages to possess a sonic quality that exudes studio polish, while still maintaining the barely restrained edge that has come define her band as one of the still-burning torches of authentic rock. The album's lead single "Extraordinary Love" hearkens to Wennerstrom's signature Austin, Texas, rock sound, while her vocals and lyrics tell a tale full of world-worn flavor and longing for truth. From the first icy, reverb-laden guitar atmospherics of opening track "Twisted Highway" to the final echoing chorus of "Gravity" at the album's close, this record is a joyride of a listen. — B.H.
Jack White, Boarding House Reach
If you were intrigued, excited and more than a little bit perplexed at the teaser video Jack White released for his latest solo record back in December 2017, you weren't alone. Now that the three-month wait is over, the real thing is every bit as spastic, compelling and original as we'd hoped. Boarding House Reach is a direct reflection of the process White used to generate and construct it, starting with recording the best musicians and ending with a labored, if not bizarre, editing process that produced the LP's smattering of sounds. At times, White summons the spirit of Zach de la Rocha as if he were fronting the Mothers Of Invention and trying their hand at hip-hop — and yet, somehow, it works. — N.H.