It’s been a year. As shown by some particularly insightful creatives out there who were able to capture what people are going through, what people are feeling, in their music. This year, we had a few culture-defining singles. Gambino’s “This Is America” and XXXTentacion’s “SAD!” particularly come to mind. As does Ariana Grande’s “thank you, next and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You“.
There were so many outstanding album releases in 2018. These LPs got us up on our feet after particularly depressing news days. They provided catharses for relationship endings. They supported us through anger. They encouraged us to survive, and because of it, so will they.
Now, what’s the point in ranking art? Instead, we just want to celebrate these artists for what they produced. So, in alphabetical order, here are Our Favorite Albums of 2018.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, The 1975
Right in the face of today’s global stress, The 1975 is dancing and holding rooftop parties like there is no tomorrow. In 2018, it’s a bold move to release a largely happy album. But that’s exactly The 1975 was emblazoned to do. Eclectic and brave, tinged with lead singer Matt Healy’s new outlook on life, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships has few failings while being courageously poppy. This year, The 1975 shed some optimistic art, and we are all the better for it.
Listen to: “Sincerity is Scary”
Be the Cowboy, Mitski
For indie rocker Mitski, it appears that female empowerment largely means exercising one’s right to suffer, to love, and to dance without fear of reproach. The grandiose overture of Mitski’s Be the Cowboy says it all: “I will be the one you need. I just can’t be without you”. Mitski upholds this impassioned, lovelorn duality throughout Be the Cowboy. It ignites and destroys us. It makes us feel both viciously alive and terribly vulnerable. To be an American woman in 2018…Mitski takes the words right out of my mouth.
Listen to: “Nobody”
Black Panther: The Album, TDE
Much like the film which brought together some of the most talented African-American actors of this generation, Black Panther: The Album brought together the best rappers in the industry, led by the insightful and prolific hands of Kendrick Lamar. Besides its thematic and sonic continuities, Black Panther: The Album also succeed in producing two of rap’s biggest hits of 2018: “All the Stars” feat. SZA and the bumping “King’s Dead” feat. Jay Rock and Future. And because this effort was such a smash, we think it’ll spark the return of star-studded hip-hop movie soundtracks.
Listen to: “King’s Dead” feat. Jay Rock and Future
Daytona, Pusha T
Confident and flexing. Ominous and personal. Not only is Daytona one of the best album’s of the year, we think it is hands down the best 7-track to come out of Kanye West’s mysterious Jackson Hole recording sessions. With proper nods to hip-hop’s founding soul, augmented by Ye’s chillingly expert production, Daytona traverses cultural villains, ongoing beef, and dark matter. All the while, our heads nod to seductive beats. All. Hail. King. Push.
Listen to: “If You Know You Know”
El Mal Querer, Rosalia
Unknown to the masses, there was a yet to be discovered line to be drawn between flamenco melodrama and modern R&B. And Spanish sensation Rosalia found it. El Mal Querer is filled with gorgeous dramatics and female-flexing hip-hop, but keeps its eyes trained on the history of Spanish storytelling. Experimental, passionate, and wonderfully composed, El Mal Querer was certainly one of the more exciting ventures to witness this year.
Listen to: “Malamente”
Ella Mai, Ella Mai
London R&B singer Ella Mai’s debut LP makes the list for its dazzling lyrics and production, and for signaling to us that we are witnessing incredible, industry-changing talent. On Ella Mai, expert producer DJ Mustard brings out both his own and Mai’s influences, touching the LP with soulful samples and hip-hop bites. Ella Mai will only get bigger with her saccharine vocals, raw talent, and profound likability. Her debut will undoubtedly be followed by greatness.
Listen to: “Boo’d Up”
FM!, Vince Staples
Quick and chaotic as the modern news cycle, FM! is yet another profound offering from Long Beach rapper Vince Staples. Dropped in the middle of the mid-term madness, FM! forces us to confront our own sense of inherited baggage. FM! is revelatory and abrupt. It’s brought to life with California collaborators Ty Dolla $ign, Earl Sweatshirt, Kamaiyah, and more. The second album since Staples threatened retirement, FM! is a wise and energized gesture from a man who can’t help but make music out of this existence.
Listen to: “Outside!”
Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves
Though Kacey Musgraves still sings about drinking, smoking, and taking acid, it appears that she has also come in contact with a higher high. Ranging from slow burning ballads, to pep-in-your-step disco, Golden Hour is a huge contender for best songwriting and arranging this year. Catchy, vulnerable, lovable, Kacey Musgraves is a warm and promising presence in this small country-pop space. And after Golden Hour, we are hard-pressed to have her stay.
Listen to: “Velvet Elvis”
Hive Mind, The Internet
In Hive Mind, fans find band members Syd and Steve Lacy reaping the benefits of their hard earned experiences, specifically the ones which opened them up musically in the time between LPs. The fourth album, and first in three years, Hive Mind captures what must have been a rollicking reunion for members of The Internet. Melodic and coy, though anchored in funk, The Internet’s Hive Mind succeeds in getting people up on their feet, and keeping them there.
Listen to: “Roll (Burbank Funk)”
Isolation, Kali Uchis
Colombiana, Americana. Early 60’s doo-wop. Sultry cumbia. Kali Uchis’ second LP Isolation is genre-defiant and victorious in its effort to find the connectivity between all of the pop-influencers. Touched by groovy, smooth talking hip-hop, Isolation certainly favors a few genres. But Kali Uchis makes it difficult to grasp onto your first impressions. Isolation is an LP that is meant to taste a little sweeter, and make you a little weaker, as the sounds go on. Just like a tequila on the rocks.
Listen to: “After the Storm” feat. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins
Milky Way, Bas
This year, with his third studio album Milky Way, Bas reminded us that life is more than its lowest points. By making music where the light is, Dreamville rapper Bas crafted a highly listenable retreat from the negative. From the victorious, light-hearted “Tribe” feat. J. Cole, to the AfroPop influenced “Sanufa”, Milky Way thrives in a spirit of judicious nonchalance. Though there are typical moments in Milky Way—ruminations on newfound fame and calamitous breakups—Bas’ natural inclinations point to an ingenuity we are stoked to see develop in the coming years.
Listen to: “Boca Raton” feat. A$AP Ferg
Room 25, Noname
“Lullaby rapper” Fatimah Warner’s 35-minute Room 25 showed us that the witty wordplay and lyrical somersaults we saw from her early appearances weren’t one-off miracles. They were signs of things to come. Room 25 encapsulates many stories from Noname’s own miseducation. From love attempts to recapturing lost black histories, to releasing naivety and admitting her own tendencies to fall. Noname’s Room 25 is an expertly worded ode to an observational existence.
Listen to: “Don’t Forget About Me”
Sweetener, Ariana Grande
Bubbling with personality and joy, but unmistakably tethered to trauma and disillusionment, Ariana Grande’s Sweetener achieved so much this year. Namely, it’s really good. There are many moments of catchy bliss. And all of it glistens with a streaming-friendly, pop sheen. But underneath the obvious appeal of Sweetener is a real woman, growing. Sweetener will live on, both as a chapter in Grande’s memoir and as an album for us to love.
Listen to: “breathin”