By this point, I suppose 2018 hardly needs an introduction. There’s a lot going on outside and today’s music reflects that, as art always tends to do. If there’s one positive thing we can all agree on is that there is truly an infinite amount of great music being released into the world on a day to day basis, but from a consumer perspective, even an abundance of music has its pitfalls.
To be frank, the so called “streaming era” is exhausting. We’ve been conditioned to the point that the joy of an album release is so short-lived, new records are often forgotten about within a few weeks of their premier. This isn’t necessarily always the case, as many fans find a way to spend that extra time with their favorite band’s new record, but the endless cycle of listen-forget-listen-forget is kind of a bummer to think about.
In my own hopeless efforts to try and listen to everything, this year I stepped back and made an internal goal. I wanted to get back to obsessively immersing myself in albums, soaking them up to the point where I’m eating, sleeping and breathing whatever I’m listening to. In many cases, I’ve been successful at it. This fall, I spent near the entirety of four consecutive weeks listening to anything and everything Gram Parsons related, only after dedicating the first month of summer to re-binging Beach House’s discography. After Father John Misty released God’s Favorite Customer in June (see below), I backtracked and absorbed Pure Comedy all over again. It was awesome.
I think it’s in those instances that I enjoy music the most and I’m pretty happy with that. Even if there are “too many” albums released each Friday to keep up with, I’m going to keep listening, searching for the next one to get lost in. After all, discovery can be one of the most rewarding parts of the process.
While there may not have been any albums that absolutely blew me away in 2018, I can certainly say there are a variety of projects from this year which I deeply appreciate and will be returning to often for the foreseeable future. That’s worth something, right?
Alas, these are the 10 albums I enjoyed most this year.
10. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae – Everything’s Fine
Lyrically dense and conceptually focused, there couldn’t be a better tandem to heat check Americans and our apathetic ways. From the get-go, Chris and Grae immerse you in a swell of wonky basslines and abstract samples, such as the thumping “House Call” or the off-kiltered “Gold Purple Orange.” The old school sound pallet is the perfect foundation for the two MCs to come correct and lay down one quotable line after another. At the minimum, Everything’s Fine is a call to action, a nudge to stop, look around, start paying attention to your surroundings and think for yourself.
9. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
JPEGMAFIA is one of hip-hop’s most exciting new voices. Veteran not only shows how explosive and entertaining he can be as a rapper, but also highlights his ability as a highly skilled producer. The blends of glitch and trap on songs like “Thug Tears” and “Rock N Roll Is Dead” are the type of stuff that is going to keep pushing rap forward. Though his style is heavily rooted in a few popular modern sounds, ‘Peggy’ is versatile enough to take the rap genre into uncharted ground.
8. Noname – Room 25
Blurring the lines between jazz, hip-hop and spoken word, Chicago poet and MC Noname is carving out her own lane in contemporary hip-hop with a purpose. She proves she can go toe-to-toe with the best of spitters on smooth and soulful rap-centric cuts like “Self” and the Saba assisted “Ace.” Don’t let the pretty music fool you, however, Room 25 is a heavy album. Noname’s artful depictions of police brutality (“Prayer Song”) and analysis of America’s racial divide (“Blaxploitation”) are top notch in every sense.
7. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
Matching excessive aggression with carefully written melodies, Denzel Curry’s TA13OO is both intimidating and irresistible. All qualities considered, it’s Curry’s best set of tunes yet. He’s improved nearly every aspect of his game: sharper flows, catchier hooks, heightened attention to song structure, cohesive themes, the list goes on. The choruses on “BLACK BALLOONS” and “CLOUT COBAIN” are pure ear candy. There’s no shortage of loud, trunk-knocking bangers either. “SUMO” and “VENGEANCE” effortlessly bridge the Southern hip-hop of the Soundcloud generation with that of the bling era.
6. Beach House – 7
Beach House may be the most definitive indie band of their time. Their atmospheric dream pop aesthetic has become instantly identifiable. They make universal love songs that are singular to them. 7 is somewhat of a step outside their comfort zone, bending their traditionally ethereal soundscapes into abrasive and hauntingly beautiful indie ballads. Needless to say, they don’t miss a beat and the execution is on point. “Dive” is one of 2018’s absolute best tracks and a high point on this record.
5. Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes
Dreamy and enchanting are both appropriate ways to describe the mesmerizing voice of Marissa Nadler. On For My Crimes, the Boston singer-songwriter takes her poetry in a more personal and confrontational direction, enlisting only a handful of guest musicians to assist her in crafting a record that largely revolves around straightforward acoustic guitar and storytelling. Where the album is stripped back in instrumentation, it is rich in atmosphere and filled with captivating vocal performances, most notably “I Can’t Listen to Gene Clark Anymore” and “Blue Vapor.”
4. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Working as a collection of short, experimental and introspective vignettes, Some Rap Songs is a deep dive into the mind of Earl Sweatshirt. Buried under layers of obscure jazz and soul samples, Earl exercises full catharsis, attempting to confront the drug use and mental health battles that have worn him down since his last record. The amplified introverted confessions make it his most personal and challenging album to date, albeit his most rewarding from the listener’s perspective. “Nowhere2go” and “Loosie” rank among his best songs ever.
3. Pusha T – DAYTONA
Few things are as established as Pusha T’s rap regimen. When Push is in the kitchen, you know what’s on the menu: slow flows, showstopping punchlines and cold-ass cocaine raps. DAYTONA is unquestionably great, simply for its airtight performances on both the rapping and production side. It’s hard not to believe the album didn’t benefit from being the first of G.O.O.D. Music’s midyear releases too. Each project that followed was simply not up to the bar it established. The same can be said for the entirety of rap albums in 2018. If you know, you know.
2. Kali Uchis – Isolation
Kali Uchis’ debut is a testament to female empowerment. Her diatribes deliver on a number of themes that deal with growth and individuality, from lust and longing (“Tomorrow”) to bouncing back from betrayal (“Feel Like A Fool”). Sonically, Isolation lies at the crossroads of modern neo-soul, R&B, pop and jazz fusion. Even though “Nuestro Planeta” is the only entirely Spanish song on the record, Kali’s Columbian roots seep their way into every track, breathing an undeniable tenacity and flair into the album’s body.
1. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
Coming off the release of last year’s sprawling social commentary Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman has knocked it out of the park once again, this time at the expense of personal relationships and his own mental health. The gut-wrenching performances on “Please Don’t Die” and “The Songwriter” are among the most gripping displays of writing in his career thus far – something he achieves without compromising melody either. In fact, God’s Favorite Customer may be his catchiest and most addictive body of work yet – especially on the folky sing-a-long “Mr. Tillman” and the percussive desert rock boogie “Date Night.” If Pure Comedy was Misty lashing out at humanity, God’s Favorite Customer is the retreat to his corridor followed by a nearly defeated stare of desperation into the mirror. It’s very much a continuation of the ‘70s-inspired piano rock and songwriter jams we’re all now familiar with, but the collection of songs presented on this record are no less compelling than anything he’s ever released.