2018 was another pristine year for music. Indie rock surged with success, hip-hop became more diverse than ever and women took music by storm with a strong sense of empowerment.
Music never seems to become stagnant, which we should all be grateful for. This past year was without a doubt hectic, and that might be an understatement, but music was there for us like it is every year. In 2018, plenty of musical veterans took new directions, new artists came storming in, and younger artists began to blossom and come into their own. Here are the top 25 albums of 2018 in order, along with an accompanying playlist.
25. Your Queen Is A Reptile – Sons of Kemet
The only jazz album on the list. British jazz group Sons of Kemet centralized their third studio album around an idea with a refined sense. Each song on Your Queen Is A Reptile is based around various women who have had an impact on culture. With only the use of tuba, saxophone, drums & spoken word, Sons of Kemet bring a refreshing & revolutionary take on jazz and the production you can use. It seems a bit minimalist, but the British outfit make it seem complete with no white space remaining. It’s got an old school sound filled with both jams and deeply conceptually written sections.
24. WARM – Jeff Tweedy
The Wilco leader released his first proper solo album at the tail end of November. At first listen, you can tell Tweedy gets confessing throughout the 11 songs, and that’s become the goal of Tweedy it seems. Being apart of Wilco for 20 years certainly allowed us to get a glimpse of himself & his struggles, but this album lets us in like never before. Tweedy ended 2018 with a successful album release and the release of his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back).
23. soil – serpentwithfeet
Not many people approach music the way Josiah Wise did with his debut album soil. The former choir singer mixes experimental pop and r&b with his exceptional voice leading the way. His vocals are emotional as he sings about an arsenal of specific emotionally arousing scenarios. soil draws you in and is a particularly thought-provoking album. Wise’s goal is to make people feel his thoughts and ways about life, and he did just that on his first full-length.
22. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – the 1975
The 1975’s third studio album impressed me to say the least. ABIIOR is a concept that only the 1975 would attempt to decipher. The group chose to keep the production in house, with Matty Healy and drummer George Daniel producing the entire album themselves. As a result, they’ve created their best album to date. Healy’s lyrics reflect on his past as an addict, tackle social trends of today’s millennial-dominated society sitting behind fresh poppy rhythms. A Brief Inquiry shows the development of the 1975 as individual musicians and the chemistry that’s grown between them.
21. Clean – Soccer Mommy
Nashville based songwriter Sophie Allison released Clean in early March and it’s a collection of songs that illustrate relatability and love in your early 20s in a way you’d expect from a 20-year-old indie rocker. It’s a breakthrough for Allison, as the album’s production strays away from the raw, bedroom pop made sound she had previously. However, despite the higher production value, she doesn’t completely abandon her familiarity for bedroom pop. Her patience and introspection stand out in her lyrics and her turbulent guitar playing, as she sings vulnerably yet toughly.
20. Double Rainbow – The Babe Rainbow
Australian based psychedelic group The Babe Rainbow have remained under the radar in the United States for the most part, but the Flightless Records members’ second album Double Rainbow shines luminously. It’s a collection of feel good tunes that pays homage to the band’s 1960s influences such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles & the Grateful Dead. The album radiates peaceful harmonies, a hazy feel & reflects their beachy lifestyles. If you want to be thrown back in time & tripped out, give this album a listen.
19. When I Think Of You In A Castle – Post Animal
Chicago based rock group Post Animal let it rip on their debut album When I Think Of You In A Castle. The five-piece group diversify their sound and do a stellar job of utilizing each of the members talents across all instruments and vocals. Post Animal bring a lot of ideas to the table on WITOYIAC and they work hard to make the record sound cohesive and centralized and avoid any feeling of scatteredness. Their music will make you want to dance, head bang, mosh & everything in between. When people ask where rock music is at this day in age, the typical answer is that it’s there, you just have to look for it in the shadows a little bit. Post Animal are a textbook example of the hidden gems you can find that’ll give you hope that rock is not dead, it’s just chillin’. Read our interview with Post Animal at Lollapalooza here.
18. Flow State – Tash Sultana
Australian multi-instrumentalist prodigy Tash Sultana released her debut full-length album this August and her experimentalism jumps out at you quick. On the release of her Notion EP in 2016, we got a glimpse of her tireless DIY work ethic, and on her highly anticipated album she fully unleashed it. She pays attention to every little detail on her first record. Every lyric, riff & loop. She’s soulful and her expression of feelings, beliefs & experiences are unlike most artists around. You can tell she feels music, not just hears it. Sultana’s got the pop music edge, but brings an intriguing new twist and sense of authenticity to it. She’s only 23-years-old & has a bright future ahead of her.
17. Oxnard – Anderson .Paak
Anderson .Paak has brought a sense of refreshment to the hip-hop community. Everything about him is something you won’t get from another musician. His persona, versatility & cheekiness. On his new Dr. Dre-assisted album Oxnard, .Paak brings what listeners expected, but in a refined manner. The productions are as funky, diverse & captivating. On “6 Summers,” .Paak uses two separate beats that contrast each other smoothly through the use of the classic. .Paak’s lyricism on the song takes a political approach mixing humor. “Trump’s got a love child & I hope that bitch is buck wild,” he sings at the beginning. The lyrics throughout the rest of the album are seductive, humorous and clever, something we’ve come to expect from Cheeky Andy. For some people, the hype behind this record sort of came and went, but .Paaks efforts on this record cannot go unnoticed. Like he said, it’s going to bang for six summers.
16. Little Dark Age – MGMT
In their first album in five years, MGMT returned in 2018 with an album dominated by new wave synth-pop. During their hiatus, the duo decided to take a new direction following their abysmal self-titled 2013 album. The strange scenarios and lyrics the duo sing are still present, but this time over stickier & sweeter productions, making a lot of the album’s sound and lyrics contrast and become even a little ironic. Behind the sweet synths and endearing productions lies a darker theme behind the album. MGMT have never been conventional when making an album, but whatever they were going for on Little Dark Age turned out nicely.
15. TA13OO – Denzel Curry
SoundCloud rap pioneer Denzel Curry released one of the darkest, most intriguing rap albums of the year. The production choices are superb on TA13OO and match the in-your-face style Curry has made his own in his short career. He released the album strategically with three separate acts, something rarely done in hip-hop – or music at all for that matter. Curry’s flow and variety in his raps keep you on your toes combined with the productions have made him the face of the South Florida rap resurgence. His lyrics tell stories of overcoming struggle, violence & the danger that comes with pill addiction. Denzel Curry, much like Pusha T, is becoming a master at architecting his own dimension in the vast hip-hop world and thriving off it.
14. DiCaprio 2 – JID
Dreamville prodigy JID released one of the most slept on records of 2018 with DiCaprio 2. His countless efforts to break through and show the world what he’s got have finally paid off, with Leonardo Dicaprio being at the forefront of his idols and influences (hence the name). The productions are hard-nosed and filthy, and JID simply shows off what he does best: Spit bars. On “Off Deez,” J. Cole was forced to actually keep up with JID and avoid being shown out by his signee. JID’s ambition and utterly raw talent will allow him to become a star in the hip-hop world, one way or another.
13. Room 25 – Noname
Noname’s independently released Room 25 is a collection of soft, minimalist songs mixed with Noname’s endearing personality. Her lyricism is clever and oftentimes humorous, something she’s no stranger to, as she transitioned from poet to musician years ago. The lines gently let us into her coming of age experiences and takes on the political climate. The production on Room 25 is not heavily layered & sort of abstract, but it’s funky and it pairs with her voice with immaculately. She’s an up and coming female talent in the hip-hop game that deserves to be recognized.
12. Boarding House Reach – Jack White
Jack White is one of the most creative minds in music today and he knew his sound was beginning to sound a bit bleak for his liking. On Boarding House Reach, we see White incorporate more modernism into his ever so raw style. Old fans of White might find this to be more of an acquired taste, but it shows that White is attempting to keep up with the times. The throttling riffs are still present, but hints of electronic music and hip-hop even make their way into the album. White has reached the point in his career where he noticed he has to branch out a little bit, and he did it with precision on his third solo studio album.
11. Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves made country music fun & relatable in 2018. She refused to be tied down to the stereotypes of the genre and wasn’t afraid of incorporating unique elements into her masterpiece, Golden Hour. Her experimentation with LSD while making this album led her to experiment with pop-like approaches to country music that remain friendly to all types of music listeners, something that is seemingly impossible to accomplish in music nowadays. Her lyrics let us get to know her in a way that, frankly, without her LSD experimentation, wouldn’t have happened. Her themes aren’t scattered or basic like much country music, but rather one of a kind and hopeful. C’mon, listen to “Butterflies” and tell me you weren’t happy at the end of it. It’s textbookly cute and honest.
10. In a Poem Unlimited – U.S Girls
U.S Girls threw it back on their new album In a Poem Unlimited by incorporating a plethora of 70s-like approaches into their sound. It’s psychedelic, with hints of disco, funk & everything in between. The production is sharp, the album glides through each track with utter cohesion. Meg Remy’s lyrics are political and provide eye-opening perspective. As a songwriter, Remy has fully blossomed and come into her own. She wears her influences on her sleeve, but she’s not afraid to speak up for what she believes in through her music.
9. Swimming – Mac Miller
The last months of Mac Miller’s life lied on two sides of the pendulum. In May, his two-year relationship with Ariana Grande came to a surprising end, and left people wondering & worrying about his mental state considering his history with drug abuse. In August, we got a collection of honest, funky, and revitalizing tracks on Swimming, his fifth and final studio album. Lead single “Self Care” let listeners know that Miller had that at the top of his priorities following the break up. Miller was trying to cut ties with mental health deficiencies and a drug problem that was largely induced because of his initial rise to fame following the release of Blue Slide Park, his debut studio album that released when Miller was just 18. Mac Miller’s accidental overdose death gave Swimming a whole new perspective to listeners. A perspective that enhanced his lyrics from all of his bodies of work. Miller had an approach to music and hip-hop that not many others had, or will have in the future. His mind was certainly one of a kind & will be missed.
8. 7- Beach House
The masters of dream-pop returned in 2018 with a glistening, gleaming masterpiece. Not many bands can refine the same sound and remain successful or keep listeners on their toes as much as Beach House can. Their seventh studio album, fittingly named 7, is their most cohesive album to date. Filled with eerie, sometimes unsettling sounds, Beach House’s new album delves you into a deep dream with no escape until “Last Ride” comes to a close. Much of the album is simplistic, not layered too deeply, but remains one of the most captivating listens of the year. Beach House have obtained a status in music that’s defined by the sub genre of dream pop, but nobody can refine the genre with each album the way they do.
7. Hive Mind- The Internet
The band that’s become known for their solo endeavors came back together for their fourth album that released this past July, and it’s undoubtedly their best effort to date. Watching each one of these members come into their own at their respective instruments has been a pleasurable journey. Hive Mind is sexy, groovy and pushes genre boundaries. Syd has found enough confidence in her seductive, breezy voice for the band to surround their music around it. Steve Lacy appropriately gets some vocal representation, and has become a renowned solo musician himself. Whatever these guys do next, and whenever that may be, will be fun to watch. Read our full review here.
6. Daytona – Pusha T
Pusha T’s highly anticipated masterpiece arrived in late May, and it shows Pusha fully in focus, leaving no room for error. Having the album entirely produced by sample fanatic and longtime collaborator Kanye West put Pusha in his natural pocket. The beat selection allowed Pusha’s somewhat one-dimensional topics to stand out and seem natural, something Pusha has become a master at throughout his career.
5. Wide Awake – Parquet Courts
Arguably the most successful sociopolitically spoken album of 2018. New York based punk group Parquet Courts told listeners what they needed to hear in a tone that we frankly deserved on their new album Wide Awake! They tackle a lot of our current political climate and social issues through their songs with blunt lyrics being screamed by lead man Andrew Savage. But despite their humongous emphasis on their lyricism, they prioritized mixing those lyrics in with some dance-inducing grooves & tasteful productions. The album’s art is indicative of the hecticness that is this record. It brought back the authentic punk sound we became so used to in the 70s and 80s with a taste of modern influences included. Wide Awake! was a new direction and a certain breakthrough for the band that will set the tone for what they do next.
4. Tell Me How You Really Feel – Courtney Barnett
The title of Courtney Barnett’s second album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, is a bold theme to attempt for an album, but that was evidently Barnett’s goal for this album. The opening track “Hopefulessness” is not the way someone would start a record 9/10 times, but Barnett attempted it, and it actually ended up being one of the best tracks on the record. Courtney’s lyricism and tone of vocals throughout the album combine for a feeling of “oh well, time to move on.” On “City Looks Pretty,” she says “friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well” with a nonchalantess like none other. Barnett is one of Australia’s best musicians right now, and isn’t going anywhere.
3. Isolation – Kali Uchis
One of the most interesting aspects of Kali Uchis is that she remained fairly quiet with the success that came with her debut studio album Isolation. She flew under the radar this year, and that’s something she’s completely fine with. Uchis dipped into a multitude of genres on her new record, and came away successful with each of them. She’s got pop star material, but chose to remain authentic, true to herself and personable on Isolation. Uchis uses seductive lyrics behind groovy productions to get her messages across, and they engulf you from the get go. Uchis is another young & blossoming star in the music world that will find loads of success in nearly any genre she tries.
2. Lush – Snail Mail
19-year-old Lindsay Jordan proves that being vulnerable and emotionally outpouring can be punk and cool too. Lush is a colorful outline of her experiences in her late teenage years and and the heartaches that come with transitioning into early adulthood. It’s 2018’s poster example of what indie-rock has become. Centralized by her crystal clear voice and pristine guitar riffs, Jordan knows how to capture your attention with her blunt and honest lyricism. Often times musicians go through a few bands/band names before they settle and excel with one, but Snail Mail is Jordan’s first band, which is a testament to her talent. Lindsay Jordan has a long career in music ahead of her, and we’re excited to see where it goes.
1. Kids See Ghosts- Kanye West & Kid Cudi
It was a busy year for Kanye West, for better or worse. Ye spent months in Jackson Hole, Wyoming preparing for a five-week stretch in June that consisted of releasing albums each week he produced for his peers as well as himself. On Kids See Ghosts, the third of the five, the duo delve into their recent history of mental health issues, a topic that both had already been pretty open about in the recent past. The hefty use experimentation and sampling is something we’ve come to expect from Ye, but he took it in a different direction on KSG. Kid Cudi was in the best form he’s been in on an album in years, and Kanye fed off it. The project, like the others in West’s collection, sits only at 7 songs, clocking in at just 24 minutes in length, not overstaying its welcome but remaining precise and cohesive. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste, but Ye has never been afraid of going into that territory with his music.