2018 was certainly a polarizing year for music as a whole. From Kanye West’s defiant yet outrageous political outbursts to Tekashi 6ix9ine’s belligerent and infamous ignorance of his place in society, this year saw the idea of what music means to us as people transform into something much, much bigger. Despite this, what truly defines a year is the actual projects released themselves, and 2018 had numerous examples of great albums put out from a variety of artists. As the year comes to a close, here are my personal top ten albums of 2018.
Honorable Mention: Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
Though I absolutely adore this album for its progressive and true-to-life lyrical themes and its crushing, grandiose instrumentation, I cannot find it in myself to put it on the list due to it being a wholly re-recorded album with no original material.
As the name implies, this album simply a re-release of the band’s 2011 album Twin Fantasy. The original album had already been one of my favorites in the band’s discography prior to the release of the re-recording, but everything that the latter did to improve the original album worked so well in making the music much more enjoyable and fleshed out.
Utilizing more advanced recording software and studio space, Will Toledo was able to make his original vision much more lively and grand with this release.
Honorable Mention: Sun Kil Moon - This Is My Dinner
Am I tired of Mark Kozelek's recent delving into drawn out, almost completely spoken word compositions? Maybe. Am I reluctantly unimpressed with his most recent album in this style? Absolutely not.
Though far outclassed by his previous three releases under the Sun Kil Moon alias, this record is still so captivating in every way that the others are. Somehow, Kozelek has the ability to take literally anything that happens in his life and makes whatever situation that may be into the most important and worthwhile thing to hear.
Assisted by the hypnotic instrumental passages that loom in the background behind his voice, Kozelek delivers yet another great album in the Sun Kil Moon discography.
10. Daytona - Pusha T
Highlights - “The Games We Play”, “Come Back Baby”
While being the first album to be released in Kanye West’s “7-song album” summer project, this album did not disappoint in living up to the hype of King Push’s return. Assisted by pure and spotless Kanye production, the Pusha T wastes absolutely zero seconds of the album’s abysmal 22 minute run time in attempting to make his best solo record. In my eyes, this mission was accomplished.
Within these tracks, Pusha delivers his best all around lyrical performance on an album since his Clipse days; a sentiment that goes as far as beginning one of hip-hop’s best beefs of the decade, a feat he accomplishes by calling out Drake on the closing track “Infrared”.
Again, with slick Ye production backing his always dynamic lyricism and flow, this album turned into the best overall project that Pusha T has had to offer in his solo career thus far.
9. Julia Holter - Aviary
Highlights - “Turn the Light On”, “Chaitius”, “Why Sad Song”
Julia Holter came through with yet another great record in her near flawless discography with Aviary. While not being as grandiose and awe-inspiring as Have You In My Wilderness, this record is still completely ambitious and easily identifiable with what she has put out in the past.
Characterized by ambient and lush instrumentation through and through, accompanied by Holter’s mystifying singing voice, this album proves to be a captivating listen despite its hour and a half run time. The album feels almost quicker than what it comes off as, just based off of how much it takes the listener in to its own world.
8. The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Highlights - “Love It If We Made It”, “How To Draw / Petrichor”, “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”
While I’ve enjoyed every release that Matty Healy and The 1975 has come out with, their music was always lacking that sort of “push” it needed to truly leave a mark on the musical landscape, at least to me. Thankfully, ABIIOR is the album that finally accomplishes this for the band.
Due to a high sense of political awareness combined with their newfound contemporary ambition, the group has made their most mature and well-rounded album yet. This is the first time that I could definitively say that the group has moved past their influences and created something all to their own.
7. Mid-Air Thief - Crumbling
Highlights - “Why?”, “Curve and Light”, “Crumbling Together”
This album came right out of nowhere and burst onto the scene this year by sheer appreciation of talent. South Korea’s “Mid-Air Thief” crafted one of the year’s most puzzling, progressive, and downright interesting albums of the year.
Taking influences of folk, electronica, and dream pop, the artist behind this project developed a sound all to his own, and one that no other album in 2018 could replicate in any way, shape, or form.
This is truly a record that needs to be experienced firsthand in order to fully grasp any explanation of its sound. The album as a whole has me and the rest of the online music community extremely excited to hear what this artist has in store for the future.
6. Mitski - Be The Cowboy
Highlights - “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”, “Lonesome Love”, “Pink in the Night”
Be The Cowboy is the album that finally showcased Mitski’s fullest potential that most people knew was inevitably coming. In delivering this performance, she solidified her place as my favorite pop artist of 2018 - with my favorite pop record of the year.
For a tried and true pop album to really hit home for an audience such as her’s, the themes of the album need to be wholly present in numerous aspects of the record. Thankfully - for a consistent 30+ minutes - every lyric is delivered with complete sincerity and passion, and the instrumentation accompanies every single revolving mood and theme as the album progresses on.
In completing this record, it feels like you accomplished something along with Mitski - a feeling of satisfaction and peace. Seldom albums did this better than her this year.
5. Playboi Carti - Die Lit
Highlights - “R.I.P”, “Home (KOD)”, “Pull Up”
Aside from maybe only my pick for #1 on this list, Die Lit was easily the album I listened to most this year.
And how could I not? There is something about everything present within this album that is so captivating, stimulating, and just plain hypnotic. Carti has defied what it means to make what some consider “meaningless” trap music.
Throughout the last few years in trap, what was considered “meaningless” has become meaning within itself. No other song or album exemplifies this sentiment better than Die Lit. Though what Carti is saying lyrically does not mean a whole lot, it is still so enthralling due to his immense level of charisma and delivery.
The beatwork is just the icing on the cake; Carti’s style demands a very specific type of sound and structure, and that style is perfectly laid down throughout every single track here.
Though this pick will be divisive to some, I believe that as trap as a genre progresses, the overall appreciation for what Carti and co. have gifted us with on this project will increase immensely.
4. Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
Highlights - The Entire Album
I originally predicted that Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s long-speculated collaboration as “Kids See Ghosts” would produce a mediocre and frankly embarrassing album once it finally came to fruition. I do not think I have ever been so wrong.
Not only is this leaps and bounds ahead of any other record released in Kanye’s summer project, but it may possibly rank extremely high in both artists discography as they currently are.
Everything that I was uncertain of content-wise when thinking of this album ended up being perfectly executed. Whether that be Cudi’s vocals, Kanye’s rhetoric, or even just the two’s ability to pull together a cohesive project. Literally every second of every song is an enjoyable experience through and through. Not to mention Kanye’s stunning production - but that is just a given.
So why isn’t such a “perfect” album my #1? The answer is unfortunately found in the project’s length. The 24-minute run time leaves me wanting so much more from the two - and to be honest, it leaves such a deadmark in finishing the album. It might not seem like this once we likely get another project from these two, but for now, I just cannot leave this album feeling complete.
With that being said, I am very impatient in waiting for Kanye’s ridiculous actions to be over and for him to just get back to doing what he does so well - that being making classics. Kids See Ghosts is exactly that - another classic.
3. Marissa Nadler - For My Crimes
Highlights - “For My Crimes”, “Are You Really Gonna Move To The South?”, “You’re Only Harmless When You Sleep”
As her third release under the Sacred Bones label, For My Crimes continues the strides that Marissa Nadler has been taking towards crafting a near flawless discography in the 2010s. This album shares every characteristic of her past releases on the label: haunting and reverberated vocals, spacey and ghostlike production, and the overall gloomy and depressing sentiments throughout.
What sets this project apart from her past two releases under the label - 2014’s July and 2016’s Strangers - is the intensely personal tone that plays out through the lyrics. Nadler is known for portraying all kinds of different characters throughout many of her songs, but with this album, it feels as if she is communicating everything through her own experiences and feelings. In doing this, it makes for a much more interesting listen than the past few albums.
As a huge fan of her work, this album delivered exactly what was expected upon its release. While it is still a run of the mill record by her standards up to this point stylistically, the level of sheer talent and presentation still lands it this high on the list.
2. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Highlights - The Entire Album
Earl made us all wait three (almost four) whole years for his next project to finally be released. The general consensus was that whatever he would end up coming out with would be amazing due to time and talent alone. Even still, I do not think that anyone could have predicted what we ended up getting.
Some Rap Songs is easily one of the most confusing, mystifying, and grittiest hip-hop albums ever released. Earl has seldom held back communicating a dark tone with his music, in both his writing and production. He felt the need to amp these feelings up to infinity on this album, and the results are almost absolutely perfect.
Over production that is as scattered and broken as someone who may or may not be having an existential breakdown, Earl breaks down his life and feelings in the darkest tone imaginable, creating a very depressing listen at times. Other times, he is just saying what he thinks needs to be said, and it is delivered with pristine attention to flow and feel.
This is easily the closest he has come to producing something perfect, and hopefully we will not have to wait another three years for something as great as this next time around.
1. JPEGMAFIA - Veteran
Highlights - The Entire Album
The competition between this and Some Rap Songs was so very close. On one hand, you Earl’s album that waited until late November to finally release, giving me just a month to digest and analyze it. On the other hand, you have an album that released in early January and set the bar so high for the year. I figured something would eventually top it, but now that this year is finally over, nothing has yet to impress me more than Veteran.
To put it simply, this is one of the smartest and frankly genius hip-hop albums ever made.
JPEGMAFIA knows how to execute every facet of this genre in its most contemporary form. For an album that references the past numerous times throughout many of the samples, it might be the most 2018 album ever made.
The lyrical aspects of this project show Peggy’s willingness to say all the right things in all the right places. Witty wordplay, referencial pop-culture citations, and ironic political portrayals - he packs it all into one cohesive musical statement that makes all the sense in the world when listened to in the environment we live in now.
Unintentionally or not, he has made an album that makes living in such a hectic and awkward time in American history seem hilarious and remarkable.
Not to mention the production that backs all of his words up, which is just about as off the wall as Earl’s, but in a very different way. Peggy utilizes numerous video game sound effects, off the wall sampling, and other various random noises to create a musical environment all to his own.
The culmination of these sounds results in something too perfect for him to flow over, something that he does exceptionally well - almost to a point where I would consider him one of the most technically sound rappers in hip-hop. Every line delivered is given the perfect amount of weight, stature, and tone. No other rapper can say they did this for an entire album this year.
Hip-hop did not deserve an album this good this year. No one did. For an album released all the way back in January, it never gets old after countless upon countless amounts of relistens. Here’s to another year of hopefully more Peggy, and possibly another classic such as this.