by Scott Dransfield
Pink Lemonade (favorite producers: Sugarleaf, Legit)
This sativa hybrid is sweet and spicy and is a great choice for a functional, all-day high.
Do-Si-Dos (favorite producers: NW Grown, Voyager)
An indica sure to get your brain dancin’. Its complex, tasty flavors give way to an extremely happy, heavy body high.
Black DOG (favorite producer: Virginia Company)
The flavor of sweet berries combines with a relaxing, peaceful body stone to make one of the most pleasant indica-dominant strains we tried all year.
Item 9 (producer: Khush Kush)
Our favorite from Khush Kush, this is one of those hybrids that manages to feel like both a heavy indica and a stimulating sativa at the same time!
24K Gold (favorite producers: Cyclops, Harmony, Legit)
Also known as Kosher Tangie, this hybrid infuses the sweet orange happiness of Tangie with Kosher Kush’s blissful body high.
Primus (favorite producers: Sweetwater, Voyager)
A modern indica classic that sold consistently throughout 2018, this cozy, Kush-indebted strain offers unparallelled relaxation.
Pudding (producer: GLW)
This sweetly earthy sativa hybrid brings plenty of hazy, cerebral effects to the table, making for a perfect relaxing daytime strain.
Zkittlez (producer: SubX)
Making it onto this list by virtue of its flavors alone, Zkittlez is one of the sweetest, zestiest strains we’ve ever tried, whether smoking flower, pre-rolls, or concentrates.
Sweet Amnesia (producer: Virginia Company)
Out of the three “amnesia” strains produced by The Virginia Company this year (also including Amnesias both Haze and Lemon), this “sweet” variety was our favorite, with its rush of euphoria and happy focus.
Frostitute (producer: Daddy Fat Sacks)
This has been a go-to strain for several staff members — the stoned well-being it offers is perfect for daytime or nighttime.
On August 3rd, Mac Miller released his most thoughtful and mature album to date, Swimming. Little more than a month later, on September 7th, he died of an accidental drug overdose, leaving the musical world surrounding him (which turned out to be enormous, fervent and grateful) reeling; leaving behind a hole impossible to fill. Mac Miller’s discography is adventurous, soulful, and most of all, honest. Follow his albums from the beginning, and his journey and growth as an artist is on full display, culminating in this deeply heartfelt, emotionally complex collection of songs.
This album has dominated the listening habits of at least two of our staff, and I think any stoner can find something to relate to, from the bouncy funk of “What’s the Use?” and “Ladders” to the soul-searching reflection in the gorgeous “2009.” Throughout, Miller plays the part of wise mentor, his experiences with addiction and depression authenticating the overarching message of acknowledging and enduring hardship and mental illness. “You’ve gotta jump in to swim,” he says, suggesting that rather than run from our issues, we need to look them in the face. It’s still painful, every day, to think that he died right after releasing such a candid, sincere, and encouraging statement of a record.
I’m just going to say it: this is the most creative project I’ve experienced all year. It’s a 15-track collection of precisely one-minute long songs, each one complete with a video originally released on Instagram, of all places. My favorite way to listen/view Whack World is via the album-length YouTube video including all 15 tracks as one seamless music video experience. It’s incredible to see not just her ambition on full display as the videos jump from one bizarre DIY set to the next, but also her effortless transitioning from pop to rap to R&B. Tierra Whack has demonstrated the mastery with which she approaches all aspects of her output, from fashion to video to lyricism to delivery.
Seriously, smoke a bowl or two and watch any of Whack’s videos, including the stand-alone single “MUMBO JUMBO,” which was recently nominated for a Best Music Video Grammy. She has a knack for thoughtful visual flair, which when combined with her quirky and catchy music, can greatly entertain any high person.
It almost hurts to say it, but Little Dark Age is the first MGMT album since their massively successful 2007 debut to not offer up diminishing returns. Kicking off with the hilarious “She Works Out Too Much,” the duo of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser put the oddball obscurism of their last two albums behind them, and utilize the help of collaborator Ariel Pink to zone in on a very 2018 vibe. Psychedelic, strange, funny, yet oddly sincere, Little Dark Age flits from mood to mood, from the electronic goth of “Little Dark Age” to the anthemic love song “Me and Michael.” Overall, despite the vehement refrain of “Go fuck yourself!” on “When You Die,” MGMT’s songwriting throughout is warm and engaging.
Little Dark Age is an excellent album for the morning. Wake and bake with one of the sativas on our strain list, push play and get ready for some swirly, loopy giddiness.
Good post-punk has been on the rise lately, bands like Protomartyr, Preoccupations, Shopping and many others holding the torch for moody, reverb-drenched and angular rock music. Add another group to that list with South London’s Shame, who kicked off 2018 with a youthful, passionate debut, Songs of Praise. It may sound like hyperbole, but the vibe on this album often reminds me of some intersection between The Clash and The Cure. “Concrete” is a perfect jumping-in point, with its dominant and driving bass line and lead guitar as backdrop to frontman Charlie Steen’s barked vocals. The combination of rough punk elements with anthemic 80’s-style rock is a winning one; Shame wants you to roll in the dirt, but then they’ll lift you up with the power of rock’n’roll.
Admittedly, this kind of rock music doesn’t lend itself as well to chilling and smoking weed as other genres, but it’s energetic and rousing enough that you can put it on if you have things to do, or while exercising. In other words, smoke some sativa and you’ll be good.
Low, the duo of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, have been making delicate, slow indie rock albums for over two decades now, yet with Double Negative, they prove that they still have surprises left in them. Coming from a lineage of warped, experimental albums like Kid A, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Embryonic, this album is a journey through a desolate, deconstructed soundscape. It’s noisy and chaotic. Some of the songs don’t even have much of a recognizable melody or chord progression. Yet few other albums this year could evoke a mood like Double Negative. Admittedly, that mood is pretty depressing, but the ever-present angelic beauty of Parker’s vocals, and the occasional chime of guitar strings, is enough to couch the listener in hope and salvation. Thus the bleak escapism of “Fly” gives way to the desperate pleading of “Always Trying to Work it Out,” on to the stark lesson of final track “Disarray”: “Before it falls into total disarray / You’ll have to learn to live a different way.”
Double Negative gives the listener a lot of mess and noise, but there’s also a pretty endless amount of depth for those who really want to dive in. It’s one of the most intricately produced albums I’ve heard this year; each sound effect and warped volume effect gives me a reaction and a curiosity to hear more. Put it on when you want to get really stoney and zoney.
Chicago rapper Saba came up in the shadow of Chance the Rapper’s ascension, rapping with him on the single “Angels” and later releasing his debut, Bucket List Project. That was a promising start, but the artist born Tahj Malik Chandler is on another level entirely with CARE FOR ME. A concept album examining Saba’s depression and grief following the murder of his cousin Walter, CARE FOR ME uses its autobiographical details and feelings to great effect. Noticeably low-key and soulful, the musicianship and production wring the appropriate pathos out of the listener and infuse Saba’s sincerely searching lyrics with emotion. He describes a struggle with isolation on “BUSY,” a struggle he later alleviates with his writing on the gorgeous “CALLIGRAPHY.” It all comes to a head on the intense “PROM / KING.” The nearly eight-minute narrative song starts with Saba describing the early days of his friendship with his cousin Walter, who came from a rougher background in the neighborhoods of Chicago. It escalates both in the percussion and in Saba’s delivery, to the point years later when he hears the news of Walt’s senseless murder on a train. It’s heartbreakingly personal and chillingly effective, as is the album surrounding it. As an experience of storytelling, of thoughtfulness and empathy, CARE FOR ME is easily one of the best albums of the year.
All year I’ve gotten a kick out of the fact that the artist behind the U.S. Girls name is a singular woman who lives in Canada, Meg Remy. I’ve also enjoyed the fact that she is responsible for In A Poem Unlimited, the best art-pop album of the year. Listen to any two songs from this album back-to-back and you’ll be treated to two different styles – this entire collection of tracks bounces from one sound to another genre and back again, like on the Bowie-swing of “Rage of Plastics” and the thump-and-grind of “Incidental Boogie.” The closer, “Time” rides an urgent groove; it’s an anthem for the seven minutes before the world ends. “When there is nothing, there is still time / There is still time, mountains of time.” Every song bursts with style and personality, adding up to a passionate, thoughtful album that swings with rhythmic diversity. Above it all, Remy’s distinctly sharp voice exudes confidence and vision. In a Poem Unlimited is a creatively potent album that lends itself extremely well to a listening session while high on some attention-span-altering sativa hybrid.
This is the fourth full-length album for the New Zealand psych-rock band led by guitarist and vocalist Ruban Nielson, and it’s also easily their most varied and expansive. Swinging from trippy R&B (“Ministry of Alienation”) to muscular blues-rock (“American Guilt”) in a matter of minutes, the group seems determined to push the conventions of modern-day psychedelia into the edges of genre and instrumentality. “Hunnybee,” one of the best songs of the year, sports an electric guitar groove and a wonderfully unique chord progression. Meanwhile, “Not in Love We’re Just High” marries a funky edge to sweet lyrics about a platonic friendship between stoners — at least, that’s how we like to read it. More than on their previous albums, with Sex & Food UMO have come into their own as the best band influenced by both Pink Floyd and Queens of the Stone Age.
Trap music, the most popular and the internet’s most dominant subgenre of rap, finally began to grow up in 2018. My favorite southern trap album is this concept record by young, hungry upstart snarler Denzel Curry, in which he takes us through three phases: light, gray, and dark. The concept really is rather loose — intense production starts making its way into the album as early as track four. However, it’s the way in which Curry tempers and stretches his hyperaggressive flow into new shapes that makes TA13OO so compelling. The light, catchy touch of “BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONZ” is completely new for him. There’s also a level of polish he’s begun to master, especially on teamups like “SIRENS | Z1RENZ” featuring JID and young goth Billie Eilish, and “VENGEANCE” featuring ZillaKami and JPEGMAFIA. TA13OO was definitely the best album I listened to in 2018 for running — next time you need to go to the gym or get some exercise, I highly recommend smoking an energetic sativa like Alaskan Thunder Fuck, and playing this album loudly from your headphones. It’ll give you great results, I promise.
Oakland singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Madeline Kenney follows up her 2017 debut album quickly and efficiently with this dreamy, soothing album, Perfect Shapes. Produced by Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, an ambitious polyglot herself, Perfect Shapes is a true collaboration, with Kenney sanding off some of the rock edges of her first album, Night Night at the First Landing, in favor of bass-and-keys-driven dream-pop more akin to Wasner’s main band. Their minds meeting clearly produced magic, because there is more lush beauty per minute of this album than most other indie releases of 2018. Angular single “Cut Me Off” is fun, but the numerous ballads on Perfect Shapes are where the magic really happens. “Overtime,” “Bad Idea,” and “Know” are three of the most pretty and most replayable tunes I’ve had the pleasure of diving into this year. Kenney has an uphill battle and will likely remain criminally underrated, just like Wasner and Wye Oak. But if the two albums she’s released in the last two years are any indication, Madeline Kenney will be around for a long time, churning out real, substantial dream-pop.