Looking back on all the great music released this year.
The content of this article is my personal opinion. There is no ranking in this article.
Noonday Dream – Ben Howard
It took me a few listens to really get into this record, but now I’ve grown to really enjoy it. With the state of the world today, its no wonder many artists have made escapism music. It’s clear to see the influence of Ben’s side project A Blaze of Feather on this release. Released four years since Ben Howard’s sophomore effort I Forget Where We Were, Noonday Dream sounds like taking a strange trip through the desert and I’m here for it.
Boygenius EP – Boygenius
An unexpected, but very welcomed, release this year. The supergroup, composed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridges, and Lucy Dacus, play masterfully off of each other. The instrumentation builds up like the anxiety and depression talked about in the songs until it bursts into the three voices blending into a sweet chorus belting out personal and clever lyrics. They also have matching jackets for when they perform.
High as Hope – Florence + The Machine
While I’m avidly aware that my love for Florence as a person has inflated my feelings towards this album, High as Hope holds merit. Florence shows great constraint on tracks like “A Sky Full of Song” and “The End of Love” while also belting out on songs such as “100 Years” and “Hunger.” While not every single track is gold (yes, I mean “South London Forever”), the songwriting on this album is some of Florence’s best.
Honey – Robyn
Robyn’s first album in 8 years didn’t disappoint. The Swedish singer opens herself up emotionally while still managing to make you dance. The songs are catchy and sweet on the surface, but dig deep lyrically. Robyn was more active on the record’s production than her previous efforts, with great results. The record comes after major events in Robyn’s personal life, leading to a warmer, softer version of 2010’s Body Talk.
I Wasn’t Only Thinking About You… – Oh Pep!
You have to love a good breakup album. Oh Pep!’s sophomore album lives somewhere between thoughtful retrospection and self-discovery. The record’s opening track “25” has a Regina Spektor-ish melody that makes you want to sing along even before you’ve heard the song. While the track “Hurt Nobody” takes a solemn turn with lyrics talking about coming undone. This record is perfect for all stages of heartbreak.
7 – Beach House
The heaviest sounding record Beach House has ever put out, 7, is a deep dive into the band’s sound. For this record, Beach House collaborated with producer Sonic Boom, parting with longtime collaborator Chris Coady. 7 is the score to a film noir picture yet to be made, a rich world filled with femme fatales bathed in dramatic lighting. 7 has the power to be an out of body experience if you let yourself be taken by its layers of sound.
Alone at Last – Tasha
Tasha presents some of the sweetest vocals of the year on Alone at Last. The smooth, bossa-nova inspired instrumentals masterfully compliments Tasha’s vocals and lyrics about self-love and peace. An omen to black female empowerment, Tasha’s debut album is a necessary piece of art for the times we’re in. Tasha has said creating the album was a sort of therapy, calling the tracks on the record “bed songs.”
Amir – Tamino
Tamino’s debut record Amir has led to people calling him the next Jeff Buckley and its easy to see why. Tamino’s voice is striking and captivating and the instrumentals match Tamino’s inflections. The record includes Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood on bass, providing a more modern sound that compliments Tamino’s classic Arabic sounds. Tamino, who is Belgian-Egyptian, wears his heritage on his sleeves, creating a captivating sound.
Be the Cowboy – Mitski
Although I’ve been a longtime fan of Mitski’s music, her 5th record still managed to surpass all of my expectations. Moving away from the heavy distorted sounds of her previous release Puberty 2, Be the Cowboy is Mitski at her highest, and most confident, point thus far. Mitski’s confidence comes with an increased vulnerability, such as on opening track “Geyser” rounding out a powerful punch for Mitski.
Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe
Dirty Computer’s first two singles “Make Me Feel” and “Pynk” and their music videos made waves when they were first released and for good reason. The songs, like the rest of the record, are catchy and danceable, while honest and introspective songwriting. On top of her musical endeavors, Janelle stars in “Welcome to Marwen” alongside Steve Carrel. Janelle’s 4th studio album shows that the singer/actress is not slowing down anytime soon.
Chris – Christine and the Queens
Christine and Queens are back and queerer than ever. The sophomore album, Chris, once again is in both English and French. Translated versions of the tracks were not the only thing that once again appeared on this release. Chris features the upbeat, catchy, and clever bi-lingual indie-pop that appeared in 2015’s self-titled record without being just a repeat album as they go further to the alternative side of the pop spectrum.
Negro Swan – Blood Orange
Blood Orange hits it out of the park once again. With a running time of 50 minutes, Negro Swan is filled with Hynes’s clever songwriting, focusing on the mental health aspect of being in a marginalized group at times like these. Throughout the record, Hynes calls back to the history of discrimination, and that which is still on-going, of black people. The opening track “Orlando” features a short conversation with trans activist Janet Mock.
Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts
A Parquet Courts and Danger Mouse pairing makes for one great record. Wide Awake! takes the listener along on a quest, questioning the very idea of a society, through dreamy pretty songs like “Mardi Gras Beads” and straight up punk songs like “Freebird II.” Much like a good book, the album’s resolution in the closing track “Tenderness” is pleasing, leaving you not wanting more, but wanting to live through it again.
Cocoa Sugar – Young Fathers
If you hoped to get another weird and experimental album from Young Fathers, sorry to disappoint (kinda). While Cocoa Sugar is the more streamlined and accessible album by the Scottish trio, it is still unique in its own measures. The tracks in Cocoa Sugar have a great sense of direction and narrative than their previous releases. Tracks like “Turn” show Young Fathers almost reversing their past, creating a new path to follow on.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love – Deafheaven
On their fourth release, Deafheaven presented a fresh way of writing about loss. The listener is not overwelled by such devastating themes, put simply senses it. This is in big part due to the band’s shift in focus to more of ordinary, specific life. Unlike their previous releases, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love feels like a real album, not one grand dark symphony. A collection of living tracks, perfectly accentuated by the album wonderful cover.
Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington’s newest release is long, 2 hours and 25 minutes long, yet manages to not have a single dull moment. The opening track “Fists of Fury” could easily serve as Rocky’s new pre-match song. The chorus pounds excitement into the listener, proving to jazz non-listeners that jazz has got much more to offer than Kenny G. Heaven and Earth highlights Kamasi’s skill to engage listeners with diminishing attention spans.
Yolk in the Fur – Wild Pink
The countdown to a new Wild Pink album started for me when I heard their self-titled 2017 debut. John Ross and the band did not disappoint, building on their sound and writing into a more mature Wild Pink. The first single from the Brooklyn based outfit “Lake Eerie” showed the promise of the more optimistic outlook and instrumentation to come. With the release of Yolk in the Fur, Wild Pink has only increased my love for them.
Magic Gone – Petal
Petal has managed to capture the essence of feminity in Magic Gone. The album is equal parts fearless, introspective, and honest. Petal, juxtaposes heavy lyrics with slow and sweet instrumentals, creating a deep and haunting emotional experience for the listener. Best exemplified on the track “Comfort,” Petal wails over softly strummed chords, “I don’t even care anymore” echoing the hopelessness many are feeling.
Freedom – Amen Dunes
If I only had two words to describe Amen Dunes’s fifth release, it would be pure euphoria. Despite the album being born out of tragedy, McMahon’s mom’s cancer diagnosis, the album never feels heavy. The record feels less like living, and more like floating, through those events in an out of body way. Freedom feels like watching someone from afar, too invested, but with no real stakes on their outcome.
Future Me Hates Me – The Beths
2018 was the perfect year for the release of The Beth’s debut album, Future Me Hates Me. The record deals with self-hatred, born from both internal and external factors in the catchiest indie rock way possible. The New Zealand quartet will make you sing along about one of the most common feelings dominating young people’s lives today: anxiety. Future Me Hates Me, is in many ways the 2018 musical version of Breakfast Club.
Microshift – Hookworms
For their third release, Microshift, Hookworms opted for heavy synth sounds instead of their regular distorted sound. The psych-punk record is a journey though frontman MJ’s mental health, which he speaks openly about on his twitter, tackling everything from death and loss to body image. The album is refreshingly honest in the way it tackles on the subjects, coming across as a therapeutic way to overcome fears and demons.
Parcels – Parcels
Parcels’ self-titled album is guaranteed to get you on the dance floor. The Australian band’s debut album is overflowing with falsetto singing, funky guitar riffs, bass lines, and sometimes even a nice flute solo. The songs are cheeky and catchy, perfect to put you in a good mood. With an unmistakable 70s disco influence, the tracks blend into each other to leave you dancing all night long (or at least for 52 minutes straight).
Please Tame Me EP – Shai Nowell
Shai Nowell’s debut EP calls on various Atlanta talents that show the diverse scene in the ATL. Produced and written fully by Shai himself, the EP is a promising release for the skilled producer and songwriter. With great fan support, Please Tame Me, is equal parts catchy, clever, contemplative, and just pure fun. The melody of opening track “Sunkissed (feat. Nai Br.xx)” will be stuck in your head for weeks.
Room 25 – Noname
Room 25 is a record of self-discovery and self-identity, taking an in-depth look into her life, Noname plays both the narrator and the subject. The album is acutely self-aware, providing a realistic look back rather than a tinted one. The jazz and neo-soul flourish on the 35-minute record hints to an Erykah Badu influence, while the line “Somebody hit D’Angelo/I think I need him for this one” actively calls out her influences.
EL MAL QUERER – ROSALÍA
ROSALÍA’s second release EL MAL QUERER is a perfect blend of R&B and classic flamenco music. though the record, classic flamenco elements are mixed with samples from Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” Telling the story of a relationship’s impending doom, the record is rich with history while still being fresh and contemporary. This record is a promising example of global bass as an interesting, successful genre.
Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves
In an era dominated by rap, Kacey has managed to win over non-country-music fans with her fourth studio release, Golden Hour. Musgraves mixes pop and country in a way that is reminiscent of golden age Taylor Swift, with better instrumentation and more mature lyricism. The opening track “Slow Burn” brings the listener into the mood of the album perfectly, while other tracks such as “High Horse” turn up the pop aspects of the record.
Little Dark Age – MGMT
When MGMT dropped “Little Dark Age” as a single, the gothic 80s inspired track was not what I was expecting. The band’s lack of commercial success with their recent albums has made MGMT a bit of a wild horse hard to quite pin down, to the band’s enjoyment. With this latest release, however, the band have found themselves in the graces of old fans and critics alike. Little Dark Age is a bass heavy, goth-pop mix between dream & nightmare.
Boarding House Reach – Jack White
Jack White released his more experimental solo album this year. Boarding House Reach has polarized fans and critiques alike. The album mixes Jack’s usual blues, rock, and country influences with hip-hop and spoken word influences for an incredibly bold album. While the singles on their own didn’t blow me away, once I heard them with the context of the rest of the album I was sold. The album is tender, in your face, and funny all at once.
God’s Favorite Costumer – Father John Misty
Father John Misty follows up 2017’s Pure Comedy with his most low-key album to date. Putting much of his witty sarcasm away for this release, Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman), releases one of his most personal and self-reflective album to date. God’s Favorite Costumer features Tillman’s most honest songs, focusing largely on loneliness. The record is incredibly endearing, which is surprising when considering FJM’s previous releases.
Historian – Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus has a voice that sounds familiar even on first listen. Lucy’s open and vulnerable songwriting only add to making Historian feel like the album you love but haven’t heard in a few years. As only her second release, Historian solidifies Lucy’s status in as an incredibly skilled singer/songwriter. Lucy is also one of the members of Boygenius, the supergroup that released one of the year’s most well-received EPs of the year.
In a Poem Unlimited – U.S. Girls
With their sixth release, U.S. Girls masterfully blend pop, disco, glam, and surf rock sounds to create an album to fuel you up for the day. Opening herself up to collaboration, Meg Remy, the woman behind the name, has no solo writing credit on any of the tracks (there are two tracks without any writing on her part), straying from her solo beginnings. With many artists trying to make music for 2018, U.S. Girls hit the mark.
WARM – Jeff Tweedy
With his first-ever solo release, Wilco’s frontman gets more personal than ever. Tweedy’s songwriting is perfectly matched with his soft tenor voice and guitar-led reflective instrumentation to create the album’s autobiographical yet familiar feeling. WARM deals greatly with Tweedy’s opioid addiction and time in a rehab facility, especially on the track “Bombs Above” and is a companion to his recently released memoir.
Your Queen is a Reptile – Sons of Kemet
As the only jazz album on this list, Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen is a Reptile will scratch your itch for great modern jazz. The British group creates each track on the album to serve as a tribute to different great black historical figures such as Angela Davis, Mamie Phipps Clark, and Harriet Tubman. The album’s rhythms are contagious and ambitious, while the rest of the instrumentation (only a tuba and saxophone) set the stage for the vocals.
DAYTONA – Pusha T
While much of DAYTONA‘s press came as a result of the beef between Pusha T and Drake, the album solidifies itself as one of the best albums of 2018. With Kayne West as the sole producer, DAYTONA has proved to be Pusha T’s best solo effort yet. While the record is short, only 21 minutes long, it packs a punch and demands you to keep replying it. Despite the at times excessive drama around Pusha and Kayne, the album is a solid release.