Not every year is a great year for music, but each 12 months always provides a number of outstanding individual records. The current landscape of music consumption heavily favors personal curation and mood-specific playlists, but the power of the album cannot be understated. A full-length record takes the temporary emotions of single songs and turns them into an elaborate, complete statement. That statement can be the launch pad for an illustrious career, ex: Kali Uchis and Jorja Smith, in the same way it can serve as the foreground for a bold comeback, ex: Melody’s Echo Chamber.
The albums in this article need little introduction, and they each have a place within the discussion of the best this year has to offer. With words from different artists, writers and creatives, here’s a list of 10 amazing records that dropped in 2018.
Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
Written by Josh Gering // The Fortnightly Playlist // @fortnightlylist
There have been a lot of great records so far this year, but there are a couple that have transcended into being truly special. Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You is a special record. It’s a record that has blood in it. It’s got life. Brandi takes some very difficult topics head on in this album. Addiction, family dynamics, politics and forgiveness are all in sharp focus. The songs, the subject matter, the singing, the lyrics and even the album art are all very intense and purposeful. Brandi has said, of “forgiveness” in particular, that the word seems to have become diluted in our culture, as it is really the most radical and difficult thing to do. This album addresses the difficulty of forgiveness in all our flawed humanity.
Essential tracks: “The Joke”, “Whatever You Do”, “Most Of All”
Senses Fail – If There is Light, It Will Find You
Written by Genesis Mihalko // What’s So Special About Music Anyways? // @GMihalko15
After a band has remained for such a long time without adjustments to their lineup, listeners become hesitant when they hear of new music in the works. However, with this release, Senses Fail not only reestablished themselves as a band; rather, they showed their audience that they are back and better than ever. The album itself grabs audience’s attention through its strong political demographic, for all its tracks pull from relatable content in the “real” world. The band is able to back up their hard-hitting lyrics with instrumental nuances that are ear-catching at their core. These nuances primarily pull from punk, but Senses Fail inserts dashes of several other genres to spice up the likability and diversity of the album. As a whole, this album is conceptually phenomenal, and the band solidifies that with the breath-taking final closer, also the title track. Mashing all of this together makes this, without-a-doubt, an essential album of 2018.
Essential tracks: “Gold Jacket, Green Jacket…”, “Is It Gonna Be the Year?”, “If There is Light, It Will Find You”
Iceage – Beyondless
Written by Dylan Rodriguez // @OC_Mommy
Iggy Pop once said the only punk band “that sounds really dangerous” right now is Iceage. The Danish outfit come through yet again on their fourth studio album sounding dangerous and inventive. Beyondless not only details the horrors of human life but also presents it’s shortcomings in a redemptive light. These tragic themes are accompanied with eclectic sounds of experimentation under a punk filter. Horn sections compliment the rowdy guitar driven ballads, which surprisingly sound cooperative together. Frontman Elias Rønnenfelt’s vocal delivery is jarring at times – in true punk fashion – with him switching between grumbling, raspy and screaming voices. Beyondless is accessible to casual listeners of rock who aren’t entirely familiar with punk music, but also extremely intriguing for veterans of the genre. The duality of the doomed yet hopeful lyrics, along with the duality of the punk yet flavorful instrumentation make this project extremely worth the listen.
Essential tracks: “Hurrah”, “Thieves like us”, “Showtime”
Kali Uchis – Isolation
Written by Ellie Burleson // Riffs and Rhymes // @elliiemariee
Earlier this year, we were blessed with the lush, hypnotizing sounds of Kali Uchis’ debut album Isolation. On her first full-length release, the Colombian-American singer incorporates multiple genres including neo-pop, jazz, reggaeton and R&B. What stuck out most to me was how Uchis makes her Latin roots very prevalent throughout the album, which provides a sensual & islandy vibe overall. Bringing in artists like Tyler, the Creator, Jorja Smith and Steve Lacy is just the cherry on top. This album is the perfect summertime listen. Kali is just getting started and I for one am so excited to see where the success of this album takes her.
Essential tracks: “Nuestro Planeta”, “Gotta Get Up (Interlude)”, “Tomorrow”
Phonte – No News Is Good News
Written by Stephen Adams // ReFlex the Architect // @ReFlexArchitect
I’ve been a fan of Phonte since Little Brother, and loved his solo debut, Charity Starts at Home, but I’m a relative newcomer to his Foreign Exchange work. On first listen, his surprise solo follow up, No News Is Good News, was different to what I expected musically, more intimate and low-key than its predecessor. However, with producers like Nottz, Marco Polo, Illingsworth and more, the beats really work for the content Phonte’s bringing. ‘Tigallo’s’ pen is as sharp and witty as ever, yet the poignant way he deals with some heavy and unique topics hit me square in the chest and had me examining my own life. I literally can’t remember the last time a hip-hop record made me feel like that. All that and Phonte still finds time to occasionally remind these mediocre MCs out here that, “so help me God, I’ll murder you niggas!”
Essential tracks: “So Help Me God”, “Cry No More”, “Such Is Life”
Pusha T – DAYTONA
Written by Roberto Johnson // Riffs and Rhymes // @robertoj007
Pusha T is the idol aspiring rappers should aim to be. He’s got widespread street cred, respectable business acumen and an illustrious career that spans across two decades. DAYTONA is a hallmark in his years as a solo artist, a 21-minute episode of swagger and laser-focused rapping, free of flaw. He may not quite be Jay-Z, but lines like “we are the names they say, this is the drug money your ex-nigga claim he makes,” portray Push as a man of mogul status, and it’s hard not to believe him. As icing on the cake, Kanye West provided a beautiful set of beats for Push to spin his carefully crafted cocaine catharsis. Let this be remembered as the best album to come out of G.O.O.D. Music’s wild summer of releases. Kanye set the table, but DAYTONA set the tone.
Essential tracks: “If You Know You Know”, “Games We Play”, “Come Back Baby”
Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
Written by Tyler Jones // Riffs and Rhymes // @TAJtheWriter
UK songbird, Jorja Smith, has arrived. After lending her vocals to Drake’s More Life and going on tour with the 6God himself, she has released her debut studio album. She previously gained notoriety with her Project 11 EP from 2016, but that was only a taste of what she brings to the table. Lost & Found finds the 21 year old singing about the teenager’s heart quandaries in all their mystery, angst, joys, and attitude, with the voice of a pained, beautiful siren who is drowning with her broken heart. The songwriting is true, honest, and somewhat naive, as it is coming from someone young themselves and even looking at life from a younger perspective and experience. But the fairy tales spun from her mouth are all as hypnotic and engaging as the next. This entry is the first of many gold bricks she’s laying on her path to success.
Essential tracks: “Teenage Fantasy”, “February 3rd”, “Lifeboats (Freestyle)”
Cypher Clique – Vintage 07
Written by Candice Johnson // BINACT // @candiiboo
Hip-hop trio, Cypher Clique from Delaware released Vintage 07, a quintessential warm weather album, in late March. I was introduced to this group after seeing them tweet the Spotify link under one of my favorite writer’s calls to action (Twitter marketing comes in handy when done correctly). This album is the perfect blend of hip-hop’s old school rhythms and new school swag. All fans of the genre will find this project easy to enjoy while hitting the scene this summer.
Essential tracks: “Stoop Kid”, “Verydirect”, “Trust the Process”
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage
Written by Maxton Schulte // @maxtonschulte
After suffering from a near-death car accident last year, a newly profound Melody Prochet returns from the darkness with her standout sophomore record, Bon Voyage. Unlike her heavily Tame Impala-produced debut, this refreshing 33-minute journey requires more of an open mind during the album’s central and unfamiliar territories. From the haunting acoustic-lead intimacies in “Var Har Du Vart?” to the oversaturated and psychedelic-filled “Cross My Heart,” Prochet overcomes her darkest self, embracing nostalgia with a no more powerful element than honesty. Notable collaborations with Swedish band, Dungen, and a spoken word cameo from Pond’s Nicholas Allbrook, additionally elevate the album’s aura in unexpected ways. In just 7 tracks, Bon Voyage truly distinguishes Melody’s Echo Chamber and revives listeners with more purity and trust for future records to come.
Essential tracks: “Cross My Heart”, “Quand Les Larmes D’un Ange Font Danser La Neige”, “Shirim”
Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads
Written by The Brightly Off-Coloured Discophile // Album a Day
Most “best of” lists fucking suck. Ten years after they’re written, their recommendations have the same look as roller shoes, tamagotchis, mood rings, and man rompers. This album isn’t flashy. It’s not cool. In fact, if you listen to it, you’ll most likely think that this album, and the person who wrote about it, are as lame as FDR. Well, this album and I don’t give a fuck. The lyrics have been written by veterans of war (and a few songs by their wives). Mary Gauthier gave these words simple chords and melodies. It’s not trying to impress you. It’s being as honest, real, and bare as possible. In the end, it works like Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and Citizen Kane; this shit is fucking timeless. It’s the stuff of nightmares played in a major key. And, if you give it a chance and listen to these profound words, by the end all you’ll have left to say is: “Yippee ki-ay, motherfucker.”
Essential tracks: Every. Single. One.