2018 was full of weird music moments. From Drake’s “In My Feelings” challenge to Kanye’s SNL performance/subsequent White House rant, to whatever went down between Azealia Banks and Grimes (we’re still not really sure), this year brought more questions than answers.
In the world of hip-hop, we saw hip-hop legends wearing themselves out — Drake doesn’t have the lyrical skills to respond to disses anymore, Kanye’s actions continue to exasperate us, and Beyonce and Jay-Z put out an album in the same way that a tree falls in a person-less forest.
We witnessed the further evolution of the music industry: a certain Compton rapper who adorned our year-end wrap-up last year won a goddamn Pulitzer (!!), another musical power-couple in Offset and Cardi B called it quits, Stormzy took the stage at the Brit awards to rebuke PM Theresa May, and artists released shorter full-lengths than ever before, creating uncertainty over the future of the album. We’re also in this incredible moment where women are making some of the boldest and most inspired independent music out there, and are finally being recognized for it.
All in all, this has been an exciting year for music (despite what h8ers like Bob Boilen say), and we’re finally sharing our favorite albums of 2018:
With the endless stream of single releases and album drops, it’s easier than ever to find new music but harder to keep up with it all. Amidst the insurmountable influx of new music, I found myself going back to these albums, listening to them over and over:
When Lucy Dacus released Historian, I listened to the singles and then sadly forgot about the rest of the album until boygenius released their self-titled EP (which would have been at the top of this list if it were a full-length album) and I couldn’t get enough of her voice. There is so much raw, emotionally vulnerable storytelling in Dacus’ music that can only be conveyed in an album format. I listened to Teyana Taylor’s KTSE every day this summer, and I don’t want to rehash what I’ve already written about that album, so here. Another debut album that had me shook was Tierra Whack’s 15-minute long audiovisual album Whack World, which consists of 15 different genre-bending tracks set to surreal and imaginative minute-long Instagram videos. The brevity of each track and the album as a whole satisfies our need for instant gratification but keeps us wishing there was more. Mitski’s Puberty 2 was #1 on my 2016 list, and while Be the Cowboy didn’t deliver the same audacity, it still holds a very special place in my heart. I saw Mitski play a small solo show a few weeks before Be the Cowboy was released, and it was by far one of the best live performances I’ve seen. Ariana Grande’s new album was a last-minute addition to this list because I’m still slightly in denial over my newfound love for pop music, but this album is everything. There are so many iconic moments throughout this album, I don’t even know where to start. DM @auralwes on Twitter if you wanna talk about it.
Also, I want to say that I will be forever indebted to Manny Unger and his family for letting me be on their Spotify plan for the past three years.
Honorable Mentions: Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer, Blood Orange - Negro Swan, Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss, Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour, Dear Nora - Skulls Example, Caroline Rose - LONER, Tirzah - Devotion, Lala Lala - The Lamb, Jeff Rosenstock - POST-, MICHELLE - HEATWAVE
Looking back at 2018, I was confused. I loved a lot of the music that came out, but I feel like by the end of the year I’d forgotten about it. I initially groused when making the lists, thinking there was nothing good that had been released. But after having consulted my Spotify from the past year, I realized there were tons of releases that had left a big impact on me.
I was terrified after Melody Prochet had a brain aneurysm two years ago. Circumstances were looking grim and I thought she may never be able to make music again. Somehow, she miraculously recovered and, with the help of Swedish friends Dungen, put out an absolutely unhinged album. Bon Voyage is so forward-moving - it’s psych rock littered with weird samples, 808s, beatboxing and microtones. And the song structures are intricate and mind-boggling. It might draw as much influence from King Crimson as it does 808’s & Heartbreak. As enriching as the listening experience is, at no point does the glitz of the production obscure the careful songwriting. Some people have told me they think it’s all “too much” - yes, it is weird, surely not quite as accessible as her debut, and might require a few listens - but this is only because it’s such a dense and thoughtful record. However, the indisputable track of the year was, no question, “Shallow” - Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.
Honorable Mentions: Renata Zeiguer - Old Ghost; Cut Worms - Hollow Ground; Matty - Dejavu; Palm - Rock Island; Post Animal - When I Think Of You In A Castle; Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo
This has been the longest year ever. It was much too long, you might say, but at least we got to hear a lot of great new music. This year I listened to a lot of moping music and dancing music and therefore was doing a lot of moping and a lot of dancing - or maybe it’s the other way around? Kind of a chicken or the egg thing, I guess.
Honorable Mentions: Mitski - Be The Cowboy, Kero Kero Bonito - Time ‘n’ Place, Jorja Smith - Lost & Found, Lucy Dacus - Historian, Miya Folick - Premonitions
“If you don’t know jack about house, then you’ll love this!” These are the words emblazoned upon the back of the vinyl sleeve for Nicolas Jaar’s latest and greatest album, 2012-2017 (released stealthily under the pseudonym Against All Logic). As someone who has been irrevocably in love with this album, but also someone who considers himself a house fan, I like to think that the converse of this statement is false, i.e., even if someone loves this album, they can still know a thing or two about house music. Regardless, this is an absolutely killer deep house record. It’s an immensely fulfilling listening experience replete with a range of fantastic soul and R&B samples, along with some vibrant drum and piano loops that would make even Frankie Knuckles say “damn this shit slaps!!” Funnily enough, Jaar is the only one on my top 5 who I didn’t get the chance to see this year.
U.S. Girls: I love every song on this record, each for very different reasons. There are some great lyrical themes discussing romantic and social issues and on top of that, they’re delivered by one of the most unique and penetrating voices in indie music right now. Also, best live act I’ve seen this year by far. As for JPEGMAFIA, he’s the most gifted and hilarious artist to come out of the hip-hop underground in recent memory. An incisive lyricist with an uncanny ability to make banging beats out of very little, I’m really excited for what he comes up with next. Parquet Courts: I wrote about them a lot here so all I’ll say is keep up the good work boys!! My #5 album is the gnarly comeback album from Connecticut fuzz-punk (?) outfit Ovlov. On its slower moments, it’s a tsunami of fuzzed-out goodness that envelopes you in its sweet, harmonious warmth. On its faster moments, it’s an impromptu escape from your parents doing 100 on the Merritt Parkway. On its mid-tempo tracks, you really get a sense of how angelic these PBR-stained vocals are, and how the layered production highlights each aspect of the music perfectly.
Best track of the year is a tie b/w “Azucar” by earl sweatshirt and “Shallow”
Honorable Mentions: Noname - Room 25, iceage - Beyondless, 03 Greedo - God Level :(, Armand Hammer - Paraffin, Tim Hecker - Konoyo, Daughters - YWGWYW, Beach House - 7
Patching together an AOTY list brings back familiar feelings: first, the panicked realization that I haven’t listened to anything that came out in the last calendar year; then, eventually, the realization that I listened to much more than I thought I had and liked a good chunk of it; finally it rounds out to the angst of writing and ranking. This year was particularly tough for all the right reasons, seeing as the contenders illustrate the changing tide of music production—toward a younger, queerer wave, with significant works by women + people of color. Some of these works, like Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, reflected an interest in well-considered art and overt sociopolitical commentary, while many others were standard releases without ulterior motive.
I found deep comfort in Mitski’s Be the Cowboy, Snail Mail’s Lush, and Beach House’s 7. As a woman with a fair bit of emotional turmoil, it felt really good to hear the voices of other women in emotional turmoil, and even better to see their work become part of the mainstream (other powerhouse women who were already massively popular allowed us to hear their vulnerability—thank you, Ariana Grande). Mitski masterfully fused the seemingly irreconcilable styles of Retired from Sad, New Career in Business and Puberty 2 to create Be the Cowboy, resulting in a record equally electronic and poppy as it is tough and sad. Meanwhile, after a slew of singles and EPs, Lindsey Jordan crashed onto the indie scene in full force. Brockhampton likewise broke into new territory, riding the high and still pushing boundaries following their Saturation trilogy. In spite of speculation that they wouldn’t be a legitimate rap group after Ameer’s departure, iridescence is just as cutting while adding layers of vulnerability and versatility. My last two picks, 7 by Beach House and Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) by Car Seat Headrest, featured tracks that only heightened the distinct styles of their artists, without reaching or even approaching monotony (if you want that, see Pinegrove’s newest release). The sheer volume of content released this year made for a far more crowded pool, but standout innovation to forms and ability to refine established styles will always win in my book.
Honorable mentions: Kids See Ghosts - S/T, Noname - Room 25, MGMT - Little Dark Age, Parquet Courts - Wide Awaaaaaake!, Kali Uchis - Isolation, Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer, MICHELLE - HEATWAVE, Palm - Rock Island
Alright. I’m not going to say too much. I limited myself to 10 honorable mentions this year. In the end, the albums that made it to my top five were the albums from this year that I know I’m going to be listening to for a long time. If I go into detail about Devotion, it’s going to be really hard to stop. So, I’ll just say, that it is an entirely unique album and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. K.T.S.E. is infinitely enjoyable and slaps every goddamn time. It’s not flawless (not a big fan of “3Way”), but honestly who cares because you can’t not be like “oh shit yes” every time the album plays. Nicolas Jaar’s house album 2012-2017 is bonkers good. Party to it, study to it, eat lunch alone in Usdan to it. If you ever came up to me like, “What’d you think of Negro Swan?” in the kinda way where it’s clear you want me to say I didn’t love it: you’re fake, and I see through you. Last, but not least, everyone slept on I Need to Start a Garden. It’s an absolutely wonderful indie-folk album in a post-Fleet Foxes world where everyone thinks indie-folk is lame.
Honorable Mentions: serpentwithfeet - soil, Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs, Lil Wayne - Tha Carter V, Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss, The Spirit of the Beehive - Hypnic Jerks, Noname - Room 25, No Age - Snares Like a Haircut, Tierra Whack - Whack World, Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!, Kali Uchis - Isolation
What a year! So much music to talk about, but only five spots, insanity. This year, I picked my top five mostly based on what I listened to the most, and some consideration for “album quality” and “artistry” whatever that means. I had a really tough time rounding out my top five, but Rosalía’s album El Mal Querer easily took the number one spot. I have never heard music like this. Her mix of flamenco with pop and hip hop floored me. Her stunning vocals, the sparse and haunting production, and her fun use of samples from Arthur Russell to Justin Timberlake blew me away. After that, Father John Misty wrote a bunch of beautiful songs that highlighted his amazing voice. Against All Logic appealed to the crate digging side of me with his hypnotic and groovy sample-based house beats. Blood Orange did what Blood Orange always does and Saba surprised me with his blend of storytelling and banging beats on Care For Me. What a year and so many great albums and songs to talk about and sing along to!
Honorable Mentions: Pusha T - Daytona, Teyana Taylor - KTSE, U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited, SOPHIE - OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
2018 was one for the books. Our dark political climate, in conjunction with the stress of trying to figure out what to do with my life, is certainly reflected in my music choices this year. Some of these albums are gloomy, while some are an upbeat form of escapism. Through the fall, I spent a great deal of time replaying Foxwarren and Wax Man, both melancholy records with beautiful instrumentation and vocal arrangement. Foxwarren is the collaborative work of Andy Shauf (whose solo stuff is amazing) and his childhood friends, who all grew up together in a tiny town in Canada. Also from Canada, Harry Permezel’s Wax Man is introspective, gentle, and a little fuzzy.
I took my first FGSS class this fall which focused on the gendering of music, and I began to recognize the dominance of the male voice in a majority of music I listen to. Luckily, so many incredible women have brought the female perspective to the forefront of indie this year. U.S. Girls’ In a Poem Unlimited is electric and at times disco-inspired, described by Pitchfork as a “rare political pop record.” Lush by Snail Mail is riddled with heartache and a matured teen angst (definitely an album I wish I had in high school). Finally, Lucy Dacus’ Historian tackles loss, relationships, and the human experience. Each of these artists are angry yet strong, are embracing their vulnerabilities, and have gotten me through 2018.
Honorable Mentions: Joey Dosik - Inside Voice, Blood Orange - Negro Swan, Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food, Melody’s Echo Chamber - Bon Voyage, MGMT - Little Dark Age, Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo
Honorable Mentions: MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent even though it was 2017, it still got me through 2018!!! iridescence by BROCKHAMPTON, and Kim Petras’ Halloween EP.
Honorable Mention: Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Woah, 2018 is over! Looking back on the year, I feel like my favorite albums were all ones that I wasn’t really anticipating, but ended up loving. JPEGMAFIA’s album Veteran took me by complete surprise when it was released. I’d never actually heard of him before this album but after seeing a ton of good stuff written about it, I checked it out and immediately loved everything about it. The songs are angry condemnations of gentrifiers, fake liberals, and Morrissey (side note, the title “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies” is incredible). Over weird, glitchy, sometimes-melodic and experimental beats, he calls out the hypocrisy in our own society. Beach House’s 7 holds a special place in my heart. I first heard the album on a school trip to The Met. As I wandered, the music completely lifted me from the outside-world; I was so infatuated, it felt like it was just the art, the music, and me. The music is dreamy and ethereal but with dark undertones. The duo took their dream-pop style and expanded on it to make their best album in years. Post- by Jeff Rosenstock, released on January 1, started 2018 off with a bang. The album focuses a lot on feelings following the 2016 election, and really helped me deal with disappointment and anger related to the election. The songs are punky, rocky, punk-rocky, anthemic, and really hit home.
Mitski’s Be The Cowboy is filled with beautiful instrumentation and even more incredible lyricism from one of indie’s biggest rising (who has now risen) talents. The emotion she puts into this makes it range from touching to devastating, and always gripping. At just 32 minutes, the record begs for re-listens, something I did many times. At number one, I put the album that I have not been able to stop listening to since it came out, Blood Orange’s Negro Swan. It is an album that is equal parts beautiful, funky, and poignant. Over hip-hop, R&B, soul, and jazz backgrounds, he discusses identity, not fitting in, and learning to love yourself. Through beautiful melodies, he explores hope and light in darkness in a way that no other artist did this year.
Honorable Mentions: BROCKHAMPTON - iridescence; Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog; Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs; Tierra Whack - Whack World