As per my originally intended schedule for this list season, I intended on having my list of the Best Non-Hit Singles of 2018 out as of a couple weeks ago. Turns out real life had different plans for me – not the least of which being an actual Christmas holiday sneaking up on me this winter. Additionally, I’ve been teaching myself how to use Final Cut Pro, doing some street photography here and there, and catching up on some books, film, and TV… so all that’s been eating up a ton of my time!
At last, though, I’ve finally been able to sit down and write out a post. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, though, this is not for my Best Non-Hit Singles of 2018 – that one is still going to take a little more time (there were a lot of good songs last year!). Instead, I bring you my favorite albums of the year! I’ve been really excited to formulate this list all year long; so excited, in fact, that I even went out of my way to compile a list of favorite albums from the first half of 2018. Unlike in previous years, I was actually able to keep up with the seemingly never-ending queue of new albums that were being pumped out all year long. Now that I’m completely caught up, this list is probably as accurate as I could make it (for the time being, anyway).
Instead of following along with last year’s list of 50 albums, I decided to narrow this down to only 25, in an attempt to streamline it to only the best of the best. The only rule I have for this list is that albums must have had been released at some point during the 2018 calendar year. The only order this list will be in is alphabetical – I just wouldn’t be satisfied with any kind of ranking I give these albums! But there is one album I love quite a bit more than the others, which I will make clear later down the line. While there are a lot of obvious picks here, I hope that there’s also enough out-of-the-blue stuff to keep things interesting! First, though, some honorable mentions.
- Little Dark Age – MGMT: It’s still pretty remarkable to me that MGMT have somehow remained relevant in 2018! Anyway, this pretty damn solid through an through, with “Me and Michael” and the title track being some of my favorite cuts of the whole year. It just barely missed the cut for this list, honestly.
- In a Poem Unlimited – U.S. Girls: Believe me when I say that I was devastated that this could not make the final cut. This record is spacey and psychedelic as all hell, but also pretty fierce, edgy, and even catchy at points. Certainly one of the most unique-sounding pop albums out there.
- Musas Vol. 2 – Natalia Lafourcade: I listened to this album while sunbathing during a pretty warm day, and it honestly might just be the best way to listen to it. These soothing Spanish instrumentals paired with Lafourcade’s vocals are just plain exquisite. She gives one of the finest renditions of “La llorona” I’ve ever heard.
- Die Lit – Playboi Carti: This has got to be one of the most replayable albums to come out this whole year. I love the way Carti subverts the cloud rap genre, helped in no small part by producer Pi’erre Bourne, who is already doing huge things. Sometimes we just need a fun, mindless party record, and this one passes with flying colors.
- Miserable Miracles – Pinkshinyultrablast: I’ve totally dug everything I’ve listened to from this shoegaze band and this is no exception. It’s dense, buzzy, poppy, atmospheric, and oh so magical. Check it out!
- Hell-On – Neko Case: Neko Case is a total class act, now and forever. This record in particular is as defined by its lush, jagged instrumentals as it is by Case’s melodic vocal delivery and exquisite songwriting. It’s not my favorite of her albums – but it’s still real damn good.
- Bloom – Troye Sivan: One of the most blissfully gay albums of the whole year; the title track is a godsend for sure. Sivan has been doing such amazing things lately and I’m excited to see what else he’ll bring us in the future.
- Turn Off the Light, Vol. 1 – Kim Petras: Halloween-themed things are totally my bag – I had a whole Halloween TV party last year! And Kim Petras’s little record was the soundtrack for my whole October. Girl’s doing amazing things!
- Honey – Robyn: Definitely one hell of a comeback album. I love records that just make me feel good while I listen to them, and this one fits the bill. It’s just the right blend of retro, lively, and sexy – a great party album, for sure!
- Loner – Caroline Rose: Perhaps one of the most overlooked albums of the whole year. There are so many varying styles of the “indie rock” brand here, it’s practically mind-boggling. “Money” is especially a simple, fun little jam.
- Caution – Mariah Carey: Are you kidding me?? If this album came from anyone else, it would possibly be the finest piece of work in their repertoire. Since it’s Mariah, though, it’s just another truly top-tier album to add to the pile. I’ll be spinning “GTFO” until the day I die.
Whew… honestly, this isn’t even the extent of the honorable mentions I wanna place here. But I’ve already gone on for too long without even embarking on the actual list… so here we go. These are my BEST ALBUMS FROM 2018!
Dead Magic by Anna von Hausswolff
Kicking things off with one of the most unusual entries of the bunch. But believe me when I say that this album totally blew me away from the get-go, even if I am relatively unversed in Neoclassical Darkwave. Von Hausswolff’s brooding compositions have the depth and timbre of funeral dirges, while her voice seems to have come from a different sphere entirely. It’s got just the right air of cryptic spookiness to make something this calculating remain intriguing from start to finish. Overall, it’s the perfect kind of album to accompany a long, melancholic walk late into the night.
Best tracks: “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”, “Ugly and Vengeful”
7 by Beach House
I’ve been a fan of Beach House since discovering Devotion way back in my early college days, and it always astounds me how they seem to only top themselves with each subsequent album they’ve released since. While their last couple albums had found them in a sort of creative slump, 7 succeeded at breathing new life into the band with the combination of sharper sonic edges and dense, shoegaze-esque textures from song to song. The end result is a sort of mini masterpiece; a collection of absolutely lovely, immersive tunes; a comforting experience that lingers long after it has ended.
Best tracks: “Dark Spring”, “Lemon Glow”, “Dive”, “Black Car”
Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 by Black Thought
Like last year, I will also be including EPs here – and deservedly so, since there were a number of really solid shorter records this past year. Regrettably, I still have yet to listen to Streams of Thought, Vol. 2, but this EP on its own pretty much blew me away. While Black Thought’s bars are undoubtedly great, he is complemented by some truly wicked production from 9th Wonder. Solid, heavy beats, clever, fire bars, and great guest vocalists – can’t really ask for much more from a good rap album, to be honest.
Best tracks: “Twofifteen”, “Dostoyevsky”
Negro Swan by Blood Orange
I must admit that I wasn’t completely won over by Blood Orange with Freetown Sound, my first venture into his work. With this one, though, I finally get it. I fully dig this record’s sleek, urban atmosphere that leans more on the minimalist side of things, elevating some of the more subtle vocal and production elements the color the narrative. There are a number of really strong melodies here, but the instrumentals are also so, so impressive at moments. This results in a lovely, dreamy album that, nonetheless, is tightly produced enough to not overstay its welcome. It’s also so damn empowering, and I sure as hell needed that in 2018. I could listen to this one twenty more times.
Best tracks: “Orlando”, “Jewelry”, “Charcoal Baby”, “Chewing Gum”, “Runnin'”
By the Way, I Forgive You by Brandi Carlile
Leave it to Brandi Carlile to forever remain successful at tugging at the most delicate of my heartstrings. She certainly has one of the all-time best voices in modern-day Americana, and it’s demonstrated time and time again through the length of this album. While there are songs here that have the tendency to not hit as hard as I would like to, it’s more than made up for by the effortless power of some of the more compelling tracks. But through it all, Carlile’s commanding voice remains front-and-center and refuses to falter for even one second. That, more than anything, makes this one of the more engrossing listens of the year.
Best tracks: “The Joke”, “The Mother”, “Fulton County Jane Doe” “Party of One”
Everything is Love by The Carters
Yeah, I won’t win any cool points for this one, but I don’t care. This is, hands-down, my most replayed album of the whole year, and is it really hard to see why? The songs are catchy and confident, the length is a breeze, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z have the most infectious chemistry. But yeah, Bey is definitely the ringleader here, with a personality that effortlessly shines track after track. In particular, I find myself quoting “Nice” very often (“Fuck youuu…”), though that’s certainly not the only one. This was my wind-down album of the year, and I have no shame at all for loving it as much as I do.
Best tracks: “Apeshit”, “Boss”, “Nice”, “Lovehappy”
Chris by Christine and the Queens
I listened to a lot of great pop albums throughout 2018 and I would be remiss to not save a spot on this list for Chris. Essentially every song on here is dance floor-ready, with some like “Girlfriend” being delightfully, surprisingly subversive along the way. Chris has got a great voice, with a vibrant personality to match, and the 80s synth backup driving the album is absolutely to die for. It’s one of the most confident, effortlessly sexy albums of the whole year, and it deserves a hell of a lot more love.
Best tracks: “Girlfriend”, “Doesn’t Matter”, “5 Dollars”, “Goya Soda”, “Whats-her-face”
May Your Kindness Remain by Courtney Marie Andrews
Boy oh boy, this album completely staggered me. I’ve seen Courtney Marie Andrews’s name floating around for a while now, but I somehow never listened to any of her work until this year. Her voice is intensely emotional, though skillfully restrained where it matters. Her songwriting is rich in palpable imagery, which guides the emotional swell of so many of these delicate melodies. In an age where the country music scene feels increasingly shallow (and male-dominated), it’s nice to be reminded that such solid, beautiful country music like this still exists.
Best tracks: “Lift the Lonely From My Heart”, “Rough Around the Edges”, “Took You Up”, “Long Road Back to You”
High As Hope by Florence + the Machine
With the exception of their blip of mainstream success around the turn of the decade, I’ve never paid much attention to Florence + the Machine, though I’ve certainly always admired Florence Welch’s powerful vocals. With High As Hope, demonstrations of this come in spades, accompanied by some impassioned, poetic lyricism. While the band has been accused of hardly straying for their typical sound, I think here their keyboard-driven style here has proven to be some of their most impassioned, impersonal work. Looks like I gotta pay closer attention to the group in the future.
Best tracks: “Hunger”, “Big God”, “Patricia”, “100 Years”
Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along
Hop Along, on the other hand, is a band that has never failed to impress me with each record they release. Frances Quinlan has one of the best voices in rock music right now, and she continues her songwriting craft rather successfully with this new record. I just love how each track seems to consist of a variety of unique instrumentals that intertwine with each other so seamlessly, making for a rather vibrant, playful album. This somehow remains the case for even the more downbeat songs! This album further demonstrates all the amazing things this band is doing, and I can’t wait for their upcoming output.
Best tracks: “Somewhere a Judge”, “How You Got Your Limp”, “Look of Love”, “Prior Things”
Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES
This one came completely out of nowhere for me, but I’m so glad it did. Fiercely political and cleverly hilarious, this is totally the record we need right now. It’s just as much a record for today’s current social climate as it is a universally just-plain-pissed-off hardcore punk cut. These instrumentals attracted me on a totally visceral level – I just couldn’t help but bounce along to so many of these tracks. Moreover, these are some of the more enthralling lyrics I’ve encountered all year. There weren’t many other albums this year that were as much of a punch in the gut as this was, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Best tracks: “I’m Scum”, “Danny Nedelko”, “Love Song”, “Samaritans”
Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
And here we are – my favorite album of this whole year. Even before I watched the visual accompaniment to this album (which is also spectacular), I felt like I was taken on a sort of kaleidoscopic journey from the very first listen. Each song seems to possess its own personality, almost its own world entirely. And through it all, Janelle Monáe herself wears her heart on her sleeve and plays ringleader with such exquisite brilliance. And yes, this album is very, very gay – so obviously I was bound to love it! I’ve listened to individual tracks countless times and the album itself in full about ten times – it’s just plain addicting and one of the most fun albums of the entire year. How this isn’t universally recognized as one of the best of the decade is beyond me.
Best tracks: “Crazy, Classic, Life”, “Screwed”, “Django Jane”, “Pynk”, “Make Me Feel”, “Americans”
Everything’s Fine by Jean Grae x Quelle Chris
The very first track of this album introduces us to a stressed dude “flying high on every drug imaginable”, a depressed Fine Arts academic with twenty cats, and a non-human entity from the future all uttering this album’s titular phrase… you could only imagine where it goes from here. This album is a creative, kooky definer of the times, built around the fact that, indeed, everything is not fine. The married couple at the heart of this record have such impeccable chemistry, the likes of which I haven’t seen elsewhere this year (no, not even the Carters could match them). This is one hell of an important album and I’m sure it’ll be rightfully recognized as such in due time.
Best tracks: “House Call”, “Gold Purple Orange”, “Peacock”, “Breakfast of Champions”
Phantom Thread OST by Jonny Greenwood
This one came to me really early in the year and quickly earned a permanent slot in the year-end list eventually to come. I guess maybe my love for its connecting film (and anything P.T. Anderson, really) might’ve influenced my raves on this one, but also it’s genuinely pretty great for what it is. These strings are almost unbearably melodramatic, often melancholic, though there’s enough variance in the minor lyrical details of each track to keep it interesting from start to finish. It’s really no surprise how this one became my most-played reading soundtrack of the year. Jonny Greenwood is an absolute treasure.
Best tracks: “Phantom Thread I”, “The Hem”, “Alma”, “That’s As May Be”, “House of Woodcock”
Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
If 2018 will only be remembered for me as the year I discovered Kacey Musgraves, then it was a good year indeed. Alongside richly produced instrumentals, Musgraves shares her unique blending of moment-to-moment observations on life, love, and family. She consistently does an incredible job at staying true to country roots while upturning many of its archaic, traditional values altogether. “High Horse” alone is an excellent example of this, as well as my most-replayed tune of the whole year. I’ll admit time and time again that the country music scene is in a crisis, but it must not be all bad if Musgraves is still around.
Best tracks: “Slow Burn”, “Butterflies”, “Happy & Sad”, “Wonder Woman”, “High Horse”
Isolation by Kali Uchis
In the mess of mediocre R&B albums that have been carelessly flung out these past few years, Kali Uchi’s debut album shines like a gem. Her hooks are sensual and Uchis herself has enough Latin-infused swagger to give this record a glimmering personality. I love the Spanish-language songs the best, but there are others here that seem to completely obliterate the boundaries of Latin R&B completely. It’s tempting to lump her into any number of R&B/pop divas that have broken out recently, but best believe that she’s different. There’s so much potential here for something truly amazing in the future, and I can’t wait for that.
Best tracks: “Miami”, “Tyrant”, “Nuestro Planeta”, ” In My Dreams”, “After the Storm”
Time ‘n’ Place by Kero Kero Bonito
While being pretty impressed by Kero Kero Bonito’s spritely debut from 2016, their follow-up EP TOTEP was slightly less than impressive. This album, though, completely shattered any expectations I had for them. Influenced as much by electropop as by noise rock, the eccentric clashing of styles here is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While certain parts of this work as a perfect little pop record, other parts make sure the listener is always kept on their toes at every turn. All this is led by Sarah Bonito as a strong, essential backbone for the group’s ever-evolving style. Really interesting stuff here, for sure.
Best tracks: “Time Today”, “Only Acting”, “Make Believe”, “Dear Future Self”, “Swimming”
I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma
Following a trend with this year, it seems, Let’s Eat Grandma (hilarious name, by the way) ended up being among my most cherished discoveries of the year. While the art pop elements of this album are surely pronounced, the duo is not reluctant to insert some more sugary elements into their compositions. Alongside some intentional moments of discord here and there are some lush, layered, and truly gorgeous instances that help define the album into something very special. This all cumulates into one hell of a closer – but you gotta get through the rest of the meat first! Trust me, it’ll all be very worthwhile.
Best tracks: “Hot Pink”, “Falling Into Me”, “Snakes & Ladders”, “Donnie Darko”
Bon voyage by Melody’s Echo Chamber
In 2017, Melody Prochet suffered an undisclosed (as far as I know) accident that left her in the hospital for several months and possibly at the brink of death. She used music to aid in her healing process, and while everyone heals in their own ways, it’s pretty admirable how this album replaces the inevitable depression and melancholy of such a situation with something much warmer and unexpectedly quirky. The instrumentals here are vibrant and even a bit weird, though she makes it work in spite of its unpredictable nature. It’s definitely one of the coolest psychedelic albums of the year, and a great example of how one strong musician refused to let tragedy completely define her art.
Best tracks: “Cross My Heart”, “Desert Horse”, “Visions of Someone Special, On a Wall of Reflections”
Be the Cowboy by Mitski
Mitski’s name has only grown larger since the passing of time since her highly acclaimed Puberty 2 album, and Be the Cowboy showcases her work at the height of her powers (so far). Through a delicate melding of distinctive styles, her emotions range from textured romance, to bitter frustration, to deep, painful sadness. And it’s all through her impressive knack at simplistic lyricism that nonetheless have the potential to break hearts and cause tears to fall. This record comes and goes like a powerful gust of wind, but I could really stand for it to be twice as long. Mitski is one hell of a talent and deserves every bit of love she’s been getting.
Best tracks: “Geyser”, “Lonesome Love”, “Nobody”, “Pink in the Night”, “Two Slow Dancers”
Wide Awaaaaake! by Parquet Courts
Never thought I would highly praise a post-punk album from this the year of our lord 2018, but here we are. This is one of the straight-up grooviest album of the whole year, in the sense that the prominent guitar and bass lines deliver groove after delicious groove from track to bombastic track. From its retro sound (with production helmed by Danger Mouse) to the often politically-charged lyricism, this album proves that the vibrancy and energy of 80s punk still lives on in this very different world. Just a perfectly solid album, really.
Best tracks: “Total Football”, “Before the Water Gets Too High”, “Freebird II”, “Wide Awake”
I’ll Tell You What! by RP Boo
RP Boo is apparently a major creative force behind the subgenre of house music known as footwork – I didn’t know this before listening to this record, but his dominance on the style is all over this album. Throughout the album, the numerous vocal samples all fold upon each other again and again, alongside extensive drum fills and snares. Although the result is an abstract, formless tapestry, each and every track seems to successfully tell its own story nonetheless. This is just one cool-ass record overall, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Best tracks: “No Body”, “Back from the Future”, “At War”, “U-Don’t No”
Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet
I don’t often place a lot of jazz records on these types of lists – the entire genre is a major blind spot, I’m afraid – but I could not avoid giving this one a mention. This is some of the best percussion I’ve heard all year; those drums just do not let up! Just as notable as the drums, though, are those impassioned layers of horns, from the lively saxophones to the deep, throbbing tubas. It brings to mind Fela Kuti and his protest symphonies that seem to be endless. A similar energy is captured here – heaven knows we need a record like this to breathe some life back into the earth.
Best tracks: “My Queen is Ada Eastman”, “My Queen is Harriet Tubman”, “My Queen is Angela Davis”, “My Queen is Doreen Lawrence”
Oil of Every Pearl Un-Insides by SOPHIE
2018 was a huge year for bubblegum bass artist SOPHIE, who had been making her name known steadily over the course of the decade. Her debut album works as not only as an introduction to her work, but as a maturation of such. While many of these tracks consist of the same aggressive, mechanical structure that she has been synonymous for, there are also a number of softer, more delicate lyrical tunes here. The result is probably the most futuristic-sounding record of this entire year. It will be really interesting to see how this album holds up with the passing of time, but for now it’s delightfully unlike anything else here.
Best tracks: “It’s Okay to Cry”, “Ponyboy”, “Faceshopping”, “Whole New World/Pretend World”
A Laughing Death in Meatspace by Tropical Fuck Storm
What better way to end this list than with the strangest band/album name pairing on this entire list?? I had no idea what to expect here, and after listening I’m still not entirely sure how to parse this record. These some elements of traditional blues here, but it’s all shrouded by a thick, raw cloud of experimental garage punk – akin to the White Stripes or Black Keys, but much more grungier and dissonant. Of course, there is some structure to the chaos though; in particular, these guitars and bass are so, so good. Pair that with some catchy melodies and politically-charged lyrics, and we’ve got quite a strong record that, quite frankly, needs so much more attention than its name might invite.
Best tracks: “Antimatter Animals”, “The Future of History”, “Soft Power”, “A Laughing Death in Meatspace”