To be honest, I couldn’t compile this list in any easy way other than choosing what was worthy. To me, there was no clear winner, there’s no favorable album over another. 2018 didn’t feature the juggernaut artists like we’ve been treated to in the past few years. But for the better, because it allowed young, new artists like Snail Mail, Parquet Courts, Kasey Musgraves, Yves Tumor, and Playboy Carti to allow them to cement themselves atop of critics’ year-end lists, a year that introduced us to new artists to prove that the next generation of musicians truly doesn’t suck.
Here are the top 10 albums of 2018.
10. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be invincible? To have nerves and skin of Teflon so that anything just slides right off of you? It feels like Kanye has been making music for that reason his entire career now, but never has it been more apt in 2018, with his MAGA showmanship and even more erratic behavior. But all those themes and feelings meet at a point on Kids See Ghosts, Kanye’s collaboration with Kid Cudi. A short, sweet album about mental health, among other things, Kanye justifies his unpredictable behavior by trying to show things don’t have to be so black and white in this world. You can show support and admiration for someone without having to justify their beliefs and motives. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, which is a message Kanye has come to fully embody in 2018.
9. 2012-2017 – AGAINST ALL LOGIC
Against All Logic sounds like an experiment by Nico Jaar, and for all intended purposes it probably was. It sounds almost like a homework assignment: all you’re allowed to use is one synthesizer and one drum machine, and on this record, less certainly means more. Filled with molded vibes from funk, hip-hop, breakbeat and house, 2012-2017 is the funkiest, grooviest album to come out this year. Never has an 808 beat machine been so versatile, used as both a rhythm and a lead instrument, and it’s what shines on this record. What are generally thought of as secondary instruments suddenly become the best versions of themselves. It’s funny to think that AAL is considered a side project by Jaar – when it was released, there was no official album announcement or rollout, but silently uploaded onto the internet. Often times, when you set out to find your best work, it’s just sitting right in front of you, staring you in the face.
8. ROOM 25 – NONAME
Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Noname chooses to paint vivid portraits with words of her everyday life in her local neighborhood of Bronzeville. Through spoken word and beat poetry, she doesn’t just tell stories, but instills these images in the mind of the listener by giving them not 1+1=2, but just by giving them 1+1, and lets the listener fill in the blanks for themselves. But above all else, she depicts a specific, current portrait of Chicago. When I hear the album, I can’t help but think of the L-tracks running up and down the Dan Ryan expressway, or the feeling of getting out of a baseball game on a summer night. She does what a poet does best – inputs the cinematic experience in the mind of the spectator through detailed words.
7. NTS SESSIONS – AUTECHRE
I remember in the final minutes of Beck’s album, The Information, Spike Jonze and author Dave Eggers discuss what the “perfect” album should sound like. Jonze argues that the ideal album should be constantly changing, and can be applied and viewed differently at different ages of your life, whereas Eggers argues that it should be a stoic statement, one that captures a snapshot of that period. These are the types of themes that Autechre’s latest ambitious venture explores. Originally broadcasted for 80 hours on loop for a week long, NTS Sessions expresses so many elements that it’s impossible to take it all in with one listen. However, that’s the beauty of this record: the constant rediscovery of something new each time you listen to it. It’s a dense, yet opaque sonic experience that, once you put it on, it becomes more than just music, but an accompaniment to your everyday life, one that offers new meanings and interpretations with each listen, one that is not supposed to act on a conscious, narrative level, but a subconscious level.
6. I’M ALL EARS – LET’S EAT GRANDMA
Man, can these 19 year-old girls rock. Hailing from Norwich, England, they have an ability to seamlessly meld genres and imbue such poignant lyrics from their lives. Take for example the album’s crutch, “Falling Into Me,” which incorporates synth-pop rhythms and instrumentation with 80s drum fills and heavy metal saw tooth waves. With lyrics like “You left a dent in my home screen,” one can tell that whey were able to write these lyrics only because they’ve lived through them. They express real life emotions through electronics, much like James Blake or Daft Punk, and go on to prove that the next generation of musicians won’t suck.
5. ORDINARY CORRUPT HUMAN LOVE – DEAFHEAVEN
It puts a smile on my face to see how far Deafheaven has come. Originally from San Francisco but now settled in Los Angeles, they’ve gone from opening for Anthrax and Lamb of God to headlining shows and festivals themselves. Once put in the deathly pigeonhole of the shoegaze genre, with Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, they’ve been able to transcend the genre of heavy metal altogether crafting a sound that’s entirely their own. Combining influences of black metal, jazz, and gospel, they’ve turned their sound into what’s now a more digestible in-take for listeners who would have never necessarily even listened to metal before. The songs on this record seem to stretch time, defining what they think metal should sound like as we head into a new decade.
4. DAYTONA – PUSHA T
Having been following Pusha T’s career ever since his Clipse days, Pusha has never failed to re-assert himself in whatever situation necessary in regards to his trajectory of hip-hop status. Probably the best record to come out of Kanye’s Jackson Hole, Wyoming sessions, Daytona is a brisk masterclass of how rhythm and melody should sync with each other. His flows and rhymes sit perfectly atop Kanye’s beats, using the rhythms as a vessel to properly carry his verses. Featuring couplets on top of couplets, each stanza oozes with several meanings, depending on how they’re read. As each rhyme lands on its respective finishing words, they feel like a pair of feet landing back to Earth safely, or like the perfect pair of fitting pants. Needless to say, college literary courses will be studying Pusha’s work for years to come.
3. 7 – BEACH HOUSE
If you looked at the last article, you already know how semi-enthusiastic I am for Beach House. When I first heard Bloom back in 2012, I was intrigued. But with each subsequent release, my interest tended to wain and wain. “Aren’t they gonna try something new? Aren’t they gonna evolve in some way? Do things differently?” So I waited patiently, until I discovered that, no, they will never change. But that patience was both a lesson and a blessing, because I came to learn that Beach House is not about evolution. It’s not about directly changing outright, but about looking back on what you have, or once had, through the understanding you have as an adult. Nostalgia’s a bitch, and their music seems to personify it, but their latest release says something about how far they’ve come. Simply titled 7, it’s both a look back and a step forward. Like Beach House’s music, we never truly change. But we make modifications of the original model, in hopes to become better versions of ourselves. It’s okay to look back, but we should also learn not to stare.
2. SWIMMING – MAC MILLER
I never really gave much listening attention to Mac Miller until his last release. For some reason, I always felt his music was tainted by all my fellow high schoolers that were listening to his music. I had listened to “Senior Skip Day,” but for some reason it never hooked me like it did my peers. To me, he was always like that kid in high school everyone was somehow friends with but me, only to eventually get to know him long after the days when we actually had the opportunity. And yet, listening to Swimming was like discovering a new side to that kid. Featuring bass grooves from Thundercat and verses from Snoop Dogg, Swimming has a thumping pulse that travels beneath the surface connecting the entire album, containing themes of regrets, missed chances, and failed opportunities. It’s all about coming through with broken promises and making those amends. It’s just sad that I’ll never truly get to know that kid I went to high school with.
1. HEAVEN AND EARTH – KAMASI WASHINGTON
There was no album this year that was as bold or ambitious as Kamasi Washington’s double album Heaven and Earth. Taking elements from the variety of genres that influenced it, Washington filled the album with heavy metal guitar riffs, funk bass, and electronic beats. With a two and a half-hour run time, and distinction between the two records, it contains and exudes a contrast of just the right elements to make the entire album feel like a whole greater than the sum of its parts. But really, is there any album that has as grand of an opening track this year? Like a space shuttle launching off into space, it symbolizes everything Kamasi stands for. People would often come up to him and say “Y’know I never liked jazz before listening to you.” And his response was, “No. It’s not that you didn’t ‘like’ jazz, you didn’t like the idea of jazz. You didn’t like your idea of jazz. You pre-conceived notion of jazz.” When all other genres, especially from this year, are considered microscopes, jazz is seen as a telescope. It’s a genre that doesn’t look inside the human condition, but rather branches out for connection, stretches out into the heavens for communication. Such other genres can run the course of their limitations and influences that eventually become stale, but jazz is the most curious genre. Heaven and Earth revitalizes jazz and makes it relevant again, standing on the edge of the realm of how other genres in 2018 operated.