Thought I wouldn’t make it this year, huh? This is really (extremely!!!) late, but I truly enjoy writing and crafting these lists more than you could probably understand, so I had to return for the fourth consecutive year to rank my 10 favorite albums of the year.
I am extremely thankful for a lot of things that this past year has given me, which of course includes all of the superb music that soundtracked such a memorable 365 days. Below you will find the 15 artists and their respective albums that impacted me the most this year, each one an owner to certain months or even full seasons of 2018. These are the albums that surprised me. These are the albums that I listened and re-listened to more than any others this year. These are the standout albums of 2018 in my eyes. As always, my hope with this list is that you will discover some new artists you will come to love just as much as I do. Happy listening!
- Twenty-One Pilots – Trench
- The Voidz – Virtue
- Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
- MGMT – Little Dark Age
- Public Access T.V. – Street Safari
#10 Album: The Internet – Hive Mind
Do you enjoy irresistibly funky grooves? How about bass lines and hooks that have the ability to linger still in your mind long after the closing of a song? Could perhaps the smooth vocals of an experienced frontwoman pique your interest? Well, then do I have the record for you! Taking the ninth spot on my list is Hive Mind, which I believe is the album that The Internet has long been working toward since their inception in 2011. Hive Mind is stretched over 13 tracks and reaches near an hour in length, which could prove disastrous for many artists (*cough* Drake *cough*). But The Internet has the upper hand being fronted by Syd, whose soothing vocals seamlessly blend with the compelling production from her band. The Internet comes equipped with an arsenal of unique sounds and interesting switch-ups that keep Hive Mind sounding fresh and exciting over its prolonged run-time.
Album Highlights: “Roll (Burbank Funk),” “La Di Da,” “It Gets Better (With Time)”
#9 Album: Anderson .Paak – Oxnard
Hip-hop’s most charismatic frontman is back with his third solo release, Oxnard, and it’s nearly as good as fans of the artist could have hoped for. Coming off of his soulful masterpiece, Malibu (which I awarded the top spot back in my 2016 list), .Paak is back with more of everything we’ve come to expect from the singer/songwriter/rapper/drummer. Backed by Dr. Dre and featuring the strongest lineup of guest features that .Paak has recruited yet (including Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, and Pusha-T), Oxnard only helps to further catapult .Paak into the conversation of the greatest emcees of our time. His limitless versatility continues to be his best trait, as he’s able to confidently rap with limitless swagger on “Who R U?,” but you’ll also find him gently singing over a politically-focused track like “6 Summers.” Oxnard is perhaps not as eye-opening as Malibu was, but it’s an entirely enjoyable listen that should satisfy .Paak fans and beyond.
Album Highlights: “Tints,” “6 Summers,” “Brother’s Keeper”
#8 Album(s): Kanye West + KIDS SEE GHOSTS – Ye + KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Kanye, Kanye, Kanye…what is there left to be said about the man? Actually, it’s really best if we say less about him. But honestly, if you’re able to set aside him and his countless questionable actions this past year, you will find that the man can still produce some incredible music. Between five projects over five consecutive weeks, Kanye lent his expertise to five (mini) albums, including lead producing credits for new releases from Teyana Taylor, Nas, and Pusha-T. But the two real standout records included in that lineup for me were his solo release, Ye, as well as his output with Kid Cudi under their new “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” moniker. Normally I wouldn’t squeeze two albums into the same slot, but I’m making an exception here since they are both so slight (each barely reaching over 20 minutes across seven tracks), and make an excellent pairing when listened to together.
I personally find Ye to be more comprehensive than its KSG counterpart, but both highlight irresistible (and refreshingly experimental) production fronted by compelling verses from Ye, Cudi, and their extended list of all-star guests. Much like Ye’s predecessor, 2016’s The Life of Pablo, Kanye himself isn’t speaking about anything too thought-provoking in his verses between both of these new projects, but he remains riveting to listen to. His ability to splice together amusing lines is largely unmatched, and his flow is as impressive as it ever was. And while I’ve honestly never been a fan of Cudi’s previous output, he really comes into his own between these two projects. Cudi is allowed more time on KSG, where he is as integral a part as Kanye, but his shining moment is his inclusion on the Ye cut “Ghost Town,” which helps to make it the real showpiece among both albums.
Whereas I found TLOP to be bloated and full of its own missteps, Ye and KSG are a much needed exercise in brevity for Kanye, resulting in two equally cohesive and well put together records.
Album(s) Highlights: “Ghost Town,” “All Mine,” “4th Dimension,” “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)”
#7 Album: Mitski – Be The Cowboy
Following her 2016 breakout record, Puberty 2, singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki has returned with the breathtaking, eclectic, and extremely well-written Be The Cowboy. This new release is comprised of 14 tracks that, for the most part, only last two minutes a piece. And while those runtimes are admittedly brief, credit goes to Mitski for her ability to craft such engaging, catchy, and profound songs in a limited span of time. One of the few times Mitski reaches beyond three minutes on Be The Cowboy is with the surprisingly disco-inspired “Nobody.” A sad, lonely tune in its own right, “Nobody” also becomes the centerpiece of the album. It’s among many showpieces in Mitski’s catalog that highlight her unparalleled ability to craft compelling, approachable songs containing lyrics that portray far less appealing aspects of life.
Album Highlights: “Nobody,” “Geyser,” “Me and My Husband”
#6 Album: Kali Uchis – Isolation
By distilling the sounds of soul, hip-hop, and Latin music into a single cohesive pop record, Kali Uchis’ Isolation easily becomes one of the most fascinating listens of the year. It really helps that Isolation is also so good at everything it tries, with Uchis showing off her talents as a singer who can seamlessly navigate between genres from track-to-track. The album is likely so successful in this way due to its long list of credible production credits, which includes Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker, BROCKHAMPTON’s Romil, and Damon Albarn (of Gorillaz fame). But while the production is exceptional across the board, it’s Uchis’ spellbinding and commanding voice that remains the star of her record. She is an impressive force to be reckoned with, and one to look out for in the future.
Album Highlights: “Dead To Me,” “In My Dreams,” “Feel Like A Fool”
#5 Album: Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
If Whitney’s unique brand of indie folk-pop initially piqued my interest back in 2016, and Kesha’s few fascinating forays into western twang on her 2017 album Rainbow left me longing for more, then Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour has seemingly materialized out of thin air to account for my apparent suppressed appreciation for good country music that I didn’t even realize I had. Just a few days ago, I couldn’t really tell you who Kacey Musgraves was. I would have recognized the name — because I’ve had friends rave about this exact album throughout the entire last year, and even had it recommended to me on several occasions in 2018 — but when I tried listening to it on multiple previous occasions, I just couldn’t become attached to it. After giving it a last, wholehearted listen a mere three days ago, something finally clicked, and now there isn’t a single track I can seem to shake loose from rolling around in my head.
From the disco-tinged hooks of personal favorites “High Horse” and “Velvet Elvis,” to the sweet, love-struck melodies found in “Slow Burn,” “Butterflies,” and beyond, Golden Hour becomes a truly remarkable album that effortlessly extends beyond the irritating trappings commonly found in the country genre. Even if you’ve previously sworn off listening to any country music, please get off your high horse for 45 minutes and give Golden Hour a try. Hell, give it three tries like me; you may be pleasantly surprised.
Album Highlights: “Velvet Elvis,” “High Horse,” “Slow Burn”
#4 Album: Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
It’s no hushed secret that Janelle Monáe is extremely talented, and in case you hadn’t realized that before, then Dirty Computer acts as a deafening scream showcasing her limitless gifts. While Monáe has cruised her way to numerous Grammy and Academy Award nominations over the past decade, it’s in her 2018 LP, Dirty Computer, that you will find her absolute best work. At all times a condemnation of misogyny and patriarchal society, as well as a wholehearted declaration in support of otherness (specifically in terms of sexual preference and bisexuality), Dirty Computer contains some of the most relevant and thoughtful themes of any album produced this year.
Dirty Computer is also an undoubtedly entertaining listen, with many tracks showcasing funky chords and irresistable melodies; others including compelling guest features from the likes of Pharrell and Zoe Kravitz; and the album’s centerpiece, “Django Jane,” being what I believe to be the year’s ultimate rap song. This album could have breached the top three in this list if it weren’t for a few weaker, less memorable songs near its conclusion. But for what it’s worth, Dirty Computer’s immaculate first half contains what may be the best stretch of tracks of any album released in 2018, and deserves immense celebration.
Album Highlights: “Django Jane,” “Screwed,” “Make Me Feel”
#3 Album: Denzel Curry – TA13OO
Denzel Curry is a name I’ve peripherally been aware of for a few years now. It’s one that would pop up in Spotify playlists, or one I’d hear within conversations regarding up-and-coming hip-hop artists. Still, I’d never gone out of my way to actually listen to his music. That was, until TA13OO released this past July and rocked my world. TA13OO occupies a similar space that Joey Bada$$’s ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ fit comfortably into just last year, in that it works as a wholly fantastic send-up of 90s hip-hop while still retaining modern rap sensibilities. With an extremely competent and endlessly entertaining lyricist like Curry in control of the reins, and backed with absolutely banger production, TA13OO is truly allowed to shine and become the year’s pinnacle of hip-hop.
Album Highlights: “BLACK BALLOONS,” “SUMO,” “SWITCH IT UP”
#2 Album: Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place
Kero Kero Bonito (known simply as KKB to fans) is traditionally a J-Pop/hip-hop/electronic trio out of London, whose 2016 album, Bonito Generation, sits comfortably within my list of the ultimate musical delights of the past decade. Following that up, with their new album, Time ‘n’ Place, the band shows themselves as one of the most versatile and exhilarating artists going today. While their previous efforts were heavily inspired by Japanese pop and dancehall music, Time ‘n’ Place sees them going in the complete opposite direction in terms of genre. Following in the footsteps of their EP from earlier this year, TOTEP, this new full-length release is an indie rock record through and through, with great emphasis on guitars and experimental production being opted in in place of bouncy synthesizers and Japanese lyrics. And while I wasn’t much a fan of TOTEP, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the trio was able to quickly refine their songwriting and really find the right sound for the cuts included in this project. Full of earworm melodies, groovy riffs, and a clear sense of direction, Time ‘n’ Place is a risky endeavor that’s entirely paid off for the band, becoming in the end not only a fantastic album, but a brilliant transition to help KKB remain fresh and exciting as they move into the future.
Album Highlights: “Only Acting,” “Make Believe,” “Swimming”
#1 Album: Christine and the Queens – Chris
Better known by the stage name Christine and the Queens (and perhaps now simply as “Chris”), French singer-songwriter Héloïse Letissier has returned after four years to unquestionably save pop music. Chris is comprised of 11 impressive cuts ranging from funky synth bops to dramatic ballads of grand scale, and Letissier demands attention as she capably croons atop each track here. Over the course of the album, Letissier speaks to topics such as her own insecurities regarding sexual identity and sexual preference, the balancing scale between femininity and masculinity, and her vulnerability as a lifelong outsider. Chris also works as an absolute declaration of powerful womanhood, with Letissier desiring to be a sort of female version of Mick Jagger, commanding the sexual force and machismo that comes with male rock stars and mixing it with the feminist, queer identity she personally owns. Chris is an absolutely marvelous record from front-to-back in every respect, easily becoming the best release of 2018 for me.
Album Highlights: “Doesn’t matter,” “Goya Soda,” “The walker”
— Michael Lane, Music Blogger