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The Best Albums of 2024 So Far


The algorithmic world has, some might argue, dampened the element of surprise. But these 10 albums that came out in the thick of the streaming age are all full of pleasant shocks—sometimes ones that seem to be even felt by the artists themselves.

Here are the 10 best albums of the year, so far.

Tierra Whack, WORLD WIDE WHACK


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Since releasing her written-in-sketches 2018 debut mixtape Whack World, the Philadelphia MC and singer Tierra Whack has become beloved for her wild creativity, which she distills into brief, yet far-flung trips into different dimensions. On her first proper album, Whack whirls around her own set of frequencies, following the underworld marching-band stomp of “X” with the couples-skate-ready yet lovelorn “MOOVIES” and reflecting on depression’s ripple effects on the glassy “27 CLUB.”

Shellac, To All Trains

Famed engineer and critic (and poker champ) Steve Albini passed away unexpectedly in May, and his band’s sixth album, recorded at his Chicago homebase Electrical Audio with bandmates Bob Weston and Todd Trainer, only added to the weight of the loss. Shellac’s lye-dipped noise rock sounds absolutely alive, with To All Trains’ 10 tracks allowing each member to flex their musical muscles in a way that winks at virtuosic excess while also being utterly self-assured—perhaps unsurprising for an album that ends with a grimy cut called “I Don’t Feel Hell.”

English Teacher, This Could Be Texas

The Leeds foursome English Teacher’s debut full-length balances the pensive with the punky on songs that vibrate with curiosity, even when their lyrics feel world-weary. The galloping “Nearly Daffodils” and the gleaming “Not Everybody Goes To Space” contend with life getting in the way of dreams. Closer “Albert Road” is a slow-to-combust ballad about a town where “the world around us never showed/ how loving can be fun,” an ideal that’s espoused by English Teacher channeling its frustrations into music that often sounds like it’s surprising itself.

WILLOW, empathogen

Willow Smith’s pop career is in its early teens, and over that time she’s amassed a singular catalog with forays into bedroom-R&B, pop-punk, and other hyphenated genres that show off her robust yet sprightly voice and penchant for writing sneaky hooks. On her sixth album, she’s bringing even more elements into the mix—“no words 1 & 2” veers between feather-light scatting and heavy shredding before showing off Smith’s talent for stacking harmonies, while “i know that face.” is the sort of sprint that makes you marvel at just how fast her mind works.

Jane Weaver, Love in Constant Spectacle

For more than 20 years, the English songwriter, producer, and composer Jane Weaver has made music to accompany her inquisitive journeys through the world. On her 12th album, she breaks down the building blocks of reality before reconstituting them in ways that incorporate resolute basslines, fluttering synthesizers, and home-movie haze. Take the dreamy “Romantic Worlds,” a potent meditation on modern love topped by a singsong melody and framed in fizzy guitars.

Sprints, Letter to Self

Irish punkers Sprints make ferocious, cathartic anthems designed to lift up those who might feel ground down by the world’s churn. Vocalist-guitarist Karla Chubb has a mighty instrument that feels as menacing when she’s in steely-eyed mode as it does when she’s in full wail (she’s cited PJ Harvey as an influence), and she takes no prisoners; the careening “Adore Adore Adore” takes on the careless ways female musicians are discussed and discarded, while “A Wreck, A Mess” is a stop-start travelogue through those claustrophobic moments when one wonders, “Is everyone a wreck? Is everyone stressed?”

Billie Eilish, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT

Halfway to EGOT status before she turned 20, Billie Eilish shows no signs of resting on her laurels with her third album. Defiantly brief—it’s a slim 10 tracks, confounding streaming-era sales mandates—and placing her whisper-soft voice at its core, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT marinates in a very self-aware darkness: “The internet is hungry for the meanest kind of funny/ and somebody’s gotta feed it,” she muses on the bleakly lacerating opening track “SKINNY.” But Eilish’s music has a lightness about it that makes it undeniably pop, particularly on tracks like the glitchy “LUNCH” and the stages-of-heartbreak diptych “L’AMOUR DE MA VIE.”

Kali Uchis, Orquidéas

Kali Uchis’ follow-up to last year’s winning Red Moon In Venus is another statement of self, with the Colombian-American singer asserting her excellence while exploring musical ideas from the Spanish-language diaspora alongside fellow travelers like the regional Mexican breakout star Peso Pluma (her foil on the starlit “Iguial Que Un Angel”) and the reggaeton hitmaker Karol G (who joins her for the coquettish “Labios Mordidos”). Even in its most beat-heavy moments, Uchis’ music retains a dreaminess that makes each one of her songs feel like another piece of her ever-growing puzzle.

Mdou Moctar, Funeral for Justice

The latest album from desert blues outfit Mdou Moctar is heavy in sound and subject, with its eponymous guitarist’s virtuosic playing and his bandmates’ chugging rhythms grounding lyrics that denounce the history of colonialism in his homeland Niger and throughout Africa. With a playing style that marries the nimble fingerwork of Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix to traditions borrowed from traditional Tuareg music, Moctar’s spellbinding riffs and unyielding sense of purpose turbo-charge tracks like the propulsive “Tchinta” and the psychedelic “Sousoume Tamacheq.”

Beyoncé, COWBOY CARTER

On the one hand, the second album in Beyoncé’s trilogy project is an exploration of Americana that interrogates ideas about genre that have been seemingly hard-screwed into culture. On the other hand, COWBOY CARTER is a rip-roaring record with enough boot-scooting moments to give its predecessor, 2022’s clubland chronicle RENAISSANCE, a run for its cover-charge money. Beyoncé’s revival tent is big enough to accommodate big names from pop’s past like Dolly Parton and The Beatles, emerging artists like Shaboozey and Tanner Adell, and fellow A-listers like Post Malone and Miley Cyrus; from song to ideal-bending song, her view of what makes country music “country” honors the genre’s Black roots while leaving in the dust any notions of music that were designed to split audiences.