I’ve read some of these lately that seem to suggest this year was a weaker one in terms of great albums. I still personally think it’s how and where you find out about great records. Either way I’ve managed to come up with 25 albums that are at least enjoyable and some you can completely fall in love with. Here’s my list of honorable mentions, as well as the Top 20 Albums of 2018. Enjoy!
LUCY DACUS: HISTORIAN
NINE INCH NAILS: BAD WITH
THE INTERNET: HIVE MIND
BEHEMOTH: I LOVED YOU AT YOUR DARKEST
SNAIL MAIL: LUSH
20. BLOOD ORANGE: NEGRO SWAN
Opening our list is the masterful soulful essence that is Dev Hynes led Blood Orange. The album is rich in texture and subcontext, and while I’m not a huge fan of the voiceover interludes, the depths of the record are enough to still make an impact. Picture a more woke version of Marvin Gaye and you’ll get Blood Orange, with his sultry voice cascading over various instruments including piano, keyboards and a variety of others. It’s a mostly smooth ride that can suck you in and make you want to make love to the aura of sound enveloping you. For that reason it opens up the countdown at number 20.
19. MOUSE ON MARS: DIMENSIONAL PEOPLE
On the German duos eleventh album, you get the sense that they’re going into uncharted territory even for a band that is known for taking risks. By utilizing the artistic gifts of members of the National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame, they create a profuse array of sounds and textures throughout the records 43 minutes. I spent a lot of time listening to this while driving, and it has the kind of focus and symmetry to make the minutes fly by as fast as the road does. It’s thoughtful throughout, and with the assistance from the previously mentioned contributors, it’s a testament to Mouse on Mars and their devotion to trying new things.
18. TEYANA TAYLOR: KTSE.
Seduction can be a great theme for modern hip hop, and what Taylor does on this record is draw you in with a sultry voice that oozes heartbreak and desire all in one, and it does so effortlessly. Even beyond the vocals, the beats are infectious and easy to sway to. It’s a relaxing record that fits in nicely on a slow, lazy day, and hopefully Taylor continues to exude the strength and passion she brings forth on “KTSE.” This is only her second full length album, but given the acclaim it’s received and her seemingly limitless talent, I expect to her great things to come in subsequent years.
17. ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER: AGE OF
Going forward, we have quite a few excellent and challenging electronic avant-garde albums filling the list, and while all of them are great, what OPN mastermind Daniel Lopatin continues to do is nothing short of rewarding and challenging. “Age Of” isn’t his most remarkable album to date, but it’s brimming with strange contributions and mixtures of instruments and elements that still make it engaging and thoughtful. It’s weird as fuck, and while only certain music fans will want to listen to it at length and on repeated listens, it’s worth a drop in if you’re the kind of person that wants a challenge.
16. DENZEL CURRY: TA1300
Late last year I saw Curry open for Run the Jewels, and frankly I wasn’t impressed. Having said that, this album completely won me over. It’s brimming with intensity while also being more sensitive than most other hip hop and rap music of the last few years. Gone for the most part are the brutal sounding screeching vocals I witnessed in the live setting, and to me it’s all for the better. The lyrics and flow are effortless, while the beats and usage of samples are pitch perfect in terms of joining everything to make a cohesive album. It’s still fundamentally a hip hop album, but Curry seems to be evolving, which is good.
15. FATHER JOHN MISTY: GOD'S FAVORITE CUSTOMER
Since “becoming” Father John Misty, J. Tillman has embraced the satirical nature of the often pretentious indie alternative to great success. Through four albums he’s captivated the fan base and continues to put out records at a pretty decent pace. That being said, “God's Favorite Customer” is at worst his best album since “I Love you Honeybear” and at best his best album under the FJM moniker. Songs like “The Palace” are sweet and soft in both lyrical content and instrumentation, whole opener “Hangout at the Gallows” has the downtempo music that makes his brand so enjoyable while still ejecting his brand of devilish commentary during the song.
14. WYE OAK: THE LOUDER I CALL THE FASTER IT RUNS
Plenty of fantastic bands from Baltimore have been gaining traction over the last decade(another great Baltimore band even makes this list a little later), and you might as well add Jenn Wasner and Andy Stacks Wye Oak to the list. “The Louder I Call the Faster it Runs” is a musical version of a kite flying dizzily through a clear blue sky overlooking a scenic lake or body of water. It weaves in and out of dreamy and centered, and Jenna voice shimmers through the synthy aspects of the song. It all works well though, and with this sixth album, the band gets even better than they were previously.
13. VINCE STAPLES:FM
Recently few have been better than Staples when it’s comes to an excellent hip hop tracks and albums, and “FM” is no exception. This barely made the list because of its sudden appearance, but it’s easily one of the best rap albums of the year. It’s energy is unflappable and the lyrical wordplay of Vince sees him just getting better and better. It’s both party rap and thoughtful, which is a profound statement given the quality of some mainstream hip hop. Staples has been crushing it with the last two albums, simply put. Either way it’s a great record that’s fit for a night of getting “turnt up,” and it lands at number 13.
12. YVES TUMOR: SAFE IN THE HANDS
Electronic based music can be very hit or miss for the casual fan, and while “Safe in the Hands by the Tennessee native Yves Tumor isn’t likely to start filling giant arenas anytime soon, the album has its merits. It’s a lush grove of experimental ambient noise, with the ability to be dark with tension bubbling up while occasionally bringing out the beauty and inviting the listener into the creation. He’s got a fair amount of recognition in the music snob department, and with this intriguing third album out in the world, I’d keep an eye out for even further explorations in the future.
11. MGMT: LITTLE DARK AGE
MGMT is a peculiar and often intriguing band. Since blowing up a decade ago, they have some awesome albums, and some that just didn’t click. “Little Dark Age” is one of the great albums. It’s shiny and high energy at times, while still being able to get weird when the time tome calls for it. The lyrics are good, but the instrumental aspects are the real crowd pleaser here, and they deliver time and time again. “Me and Michael” is a masterpiece of a song, and with moments like that, MGMT is poised to be as big of a band as they should have been all along, if they had consistently release records that are as smart and energetic as “Little Dark Age.”
10. PUSHA T: DAYTONA
Yes Pusha had a crazy beef with Drake filled year, but what he actually did that’s important is make one of the best hip hop albums of 2018. Recording during the same period where the recent Kanye and Teyana Taylor album was created, this seven song burst of creativity (barely) knocks out all the other albums made during that period in Wyoming. It’s a fast record to get through, but that’s part of why it’s so great. His flow is top notch and groove based, and as always he continues to shine for the right reasons, mostly. He should be playing arenas by now, but I’ll settle for continually great hip hop done right.
9. APHEX TWIN: COLLAPSE EP
Unlike the “Syro” sessions from a few years ago, this incarnation of Richard D. James finds his Twin domain being a little more streamlined while accessing some pretty frantically fast paced beats. It’s perfect for a late night party or just wondering in a haze through the streets, but it’s nothing if not incentive and interesting. This guy has been a legend of the electronic scene for decades now, and while it’s likely too out there for the vast majority, his music and this album always has a built in fan base of open minded individuals who will give it a shot. Without a doubt this is an artist that simply doesn’t care what the mainstream appeal of his music might or could be, but when you’re an innovator of Electronic music, you aren’t really looking for the kind of fame that artists like the chainsmokers or deadmau5 seem to thrive on.
8. LOW: DOUBLE NEGATIVE
On the Duluth trios 12th album, the band dives headlong into a substantial world of ambient songs and pulsating soundscapes, and for newer fans like myself, I’m left wondering why I hadn’t given this band more listens throughout the years. It’s engaging and hypnotic all at the same time, and Low really push themselves to make something challenging but also rewarding. I can’t say if this is their best album, but among the four or so I’ve heard, it’s damn good and lifts their memorable career a few more steps up. It’s just a shame more music fans don’t know about them. You could call this band post hardcore to a certain extent, but any resemblance to that genre is mostly lost here, not that it makes the album less valuable. Engaging and dark, “Double Negative” lands at number 6.
7. KING TUFF: THE OTHER
Seems like a fair amount of trippy albums this year, but you can’t really do much about that if the record delivers. That being said, King Tuffs “The Other” is one of the easiest albums to sit down and delve into that I encountered this year. It’s spacey at times, proggy as hell at other moments, but it’s all wrapped in a nice package that draws the listener in. “Thru the Cracks” shimmers like it was made to be played at dusk during an outdoor music festival, while standout track “Neverending Sunshine,” draws us closer to the end of the record with a glimmering night time sky descending young the listener. At times it’s thunderous and blistering, but the music presented wraps itself beautifully in a thick layered contrast to most popular music of the year.
6. THEE OH SEES: SMOTE REVERSER
If you know anything about this band hailing from San Francisco, you’re likely we’ll aware that although they’ve made over ten albums, the name of the band has changed quite often. On “Smote Reverser” the band stick with just “Oh Sees,” but the energy and cohesion is stronger than ever. The record has a lo-fi reverb happening to it that makes it all the more heavy, and the vocals are mixed in the way that make the entire album seamless. I got a chance to see them a few times throughout the years, and I always thought it was kind of hit or miss, but with “Smote Reverser” they’ve fully embraced their slowish drudgy psych rock ambition, and it excels at being a record that repeatedly delivers.
5. KHRUANGBIN: CON TODO EL MUNDO
I discovered this band during the early months of the year, and frankly I was floored by the wondrous sounds emanating from the speakers. It’s leisurely paced and doesn’t just speed it at random times, instead deciding to ride the wave that the music has provided. It’s mostly instrumentally driven also, which somehow never gets old. Songs like “Lady and Man” are best enjoyed with company lingering and chatting in the background, as joy and laughter fill the air, but so much of the album is like that that you can take your pick really. It’s refreshing and groove heavy in a way that none of the other records on this list are, and for that reason “Con Todo El Mundo” by Khruangbin opens up our top five albums of the year.
4. BEACH HOUSE: 7
As Beach House, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have proven that a deep, darkly polished synth pop sound can work and can even get the attention it deserves. On the seventh, appropriately titled record, the duo continues doing what has given them so much success in the first place. The album is dark for sure, but with added soundscapes combing through the proceedings, it’s clear that they haven’t lost any of the vigor and attention to detail. “Lemon Glow,” while mesmerizing and eery, stands out as one of the better songs on “7,” and it’s slow pulse reverberates through your brain like a nighttime glow party watching a creepy movie. While Beach House hasn’t taken some huge artistic leap in how the albums sound, they haven’t really had to because all of the outputs are often amazing and engaging in all the best ways. The same can be said for “7.”
3. KASEY MUSGRAVES: GOLDEN HOUR
Even I can be surprised by myself sometimes. When I first heard this record, I was stunned by how much I found to enjoy. On “Golden Hour,” Musgraves bridged the gap of country music in a way that even alternative music fans can find something to chew into it. Country music is hugely popular to a certain core group, but often times that popularity doesn’t translate to mass success. This is where Musgraves shines. She transcends the stigma of what a country artist is and creates a gorgeous record that’s as good as anything I heard this year. It’s a refreshingly easy record to listen to, especially if you find yourself outside enjoying some drinks and relaxing company. It’s the type of album that’s just easy, which isn’t meant in anyway as a put down. On this, her third proper album Kacey ventures over varied paces, sounds and concepts, but it all fits in to make this “Golden Hour” truly special.
2. DEAFHEAVEN, ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE
Picking the best album of the year can be difficult, and this year it proved to be just as hard as previous years. For the last two weeks I’ve gone back and forth on the top two, and now finally, I can present the second best album of the year: the fourth record from the George Clark led Deafheaven, the California based purveyors of a style of black metal that is both evil and engrossingly beautiful, depending on which segments you here. With this record they’ve proven that the early signs of their greatness were accurate, and they’ve created an album that is steeped in true human emotions, while clashing those ideas with driven, pinpoint accuracy chord progressions and poignant undertones and segues. Tracks like “Canary Yellow” are spellbinding, while album closer “Worthless Animals” has a guitar section that’s so in tune with vulnerability that it’s impossible to not be engrossed in it. As the final vocals “ All who have forgotten Remember now, Remember now, Now, Now” bellow from Clark’s throat, it serves as reminder that Deafheaven aren’t simply a black metal band, but are in fact so much more.
1. MITSKI: BE THE COWBOY
The first thing you hear sung in the mesmerizing “Be the Cowboy” is the line “You’re my number one,” and while Mitski is talking about a romantic entanglement, that statement is true also in regards to her placement on this list. Over the last few years, with her “Puberty 2,” and now this record, Mitski has emerged as one of the most interesting artists to watch of the last few years. This album feels very much to me like a spiritual successor to “Masseduction” by St Vincent in that it sees the artist Mitski trying her hand at a shade of pop music not often heard, but it’s also very raw and open about the struggles we as people can face. A track like opener “Geyser” has an ominous background instrumentation that works well while Mitski and her silky, seductively open voice reign you in for a ride that’s as enjoyable as it is mature and direct about emotional states. Many of the songs here simply work, like “Washing Machine Heart,” and “Remember My Name” with its pure vocals and walloping drum section, but as the minutes close on the sadly beautiful closer “Two Slow Dancers,” you’re left with a void. The album, and this track especially embraces the profound highs and lows an average human being has to go through, and how those events help to shape our art, ideas and our impact our futures. As she says in “Be The Cowboy” and it’s conclusion, “To think that we could stay the same” is a beautiful, yet heartbreaking sentiment, but it’s fleeting all the same. Still, Mitski tries to stay in that perfect place, and the album is better for it. The best album of 2018, “Be the Cowboy” by Mitski.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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