100 Albums That Made Me Feel Things: A “Best” Of 2018 List
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75. Your Smith — Bad Habit EP
Your Smith (f.k.a. Caroline Smith) recently moved from Minneapolis to California and rebranded. If you are familiar with her previous work and image, the album art of Bad Habit makes it clear that she is going for a different vibe. And luckily, it suits her really well. It’s poppier, funkier, more bass-heavy, and, all in all, a really exciting direction that I look forward to hearing more of.
Favorite track: “Debbie”
74. Lil Wayne — Tha Carter V
What can one even say? This has been the most anticipated rap album for many years; at this point in his career, not only can Lil Wayne do whatever he wants artistically, but he basically already has. Honestly, he’s been a total wild card for over a decade.
With that in mind, this album really exceeded my expectations. Sure, at times it feels bloated, and at other times it feels too aggressively edited; but if you can see past those moments you will see that Lil Wayne still possesses — and understands — what made him so popular in the first place. His free-associative thoughts are entertaining in their absurdity and their idiosyncrasy, and we get plenty of classic Weezy mind-fuck lines (incl. “I can’t talk to myself, ’cause Mama said, ‘don’t talk to strangers,’”; “I’m never wrong — one time I thought I was wrong but I was only mistaken,” and about 200 more). But the emotional range of Carter V is the most pleasant surprise; from the extremely tender recording of Wayne’s mother on the opening track, to the moment when it transitions into XXXTentacion’s mournful howls on “Don’t Cry,” to the maniacal plotting and gangster scheming of “Mona Lisa.”
Favorite tracks: “Let It All Work Out,” “Dope N***az”
73. Half Waif — Lavender
Half Waif’s ambient chords and stripped-down electronic drumbeats capture the types of dark feelings that we most often feel alone. Lavender is a quest to define one’s relationships and, ultimately, oneself.
Favorite track: “Salt Candy”
Also read: my review of the track “Torches” on Frontrunner Magazine
72. The Internet — Hive Mind
Syd and company are back with more old-school-inspired R&B jams about picking up chicks, relationship troubles, chilling with your friends, and keeping it real. This is mood music that will give you no choice but to shoulder-dance.
Favorite track: “Look What You Started”
71. Cantrell — Stardust 2 Angels
Cantrell is one of the most promising early-career rappers I had the pleasure of hearing in 2018, and he is also the kind of guy you want to root for: there is a refreshing balance in his perspective and his presentation. Whether he is flexing, joking, or speaking his truth, there is a strong sense that his music is inclusive: he is humbly, cordially inviting you to hear his story.
Favorite track: “Keep Yappin”
Also read: my review of “Keep Yappin” on Frontrunner Magazine
70. Let’s Eat Grandma — I’m All Ears
The humbling depth of pop experimentation by this UK duo emphatically challenges what most people believe teenagers are capable of, especially on a limited budget. On their second full-length album, these childhood friends’ thick Norwich accents sometimes glide, sometimes strain over just about every weird synth setting there is.
Favorite track: “Falling Into Me”
69. We Were Promised Jetpacks — The More I Sleep, The Less I Dream
The Edinburgh veterans came back with more of what put them on the map a decade ago with their first album, These Four Walls: emotional music that sounds like Death Cab, Frightened Rabbit, and Mogwai were blended into a delicious post-punk frappe.
Favorite track: “Someone Else’s Problem”
68. FOUR FISTS — 6666
“As feelings of anxiety, chaos, and tension have found an increasingly public forum in American society, it is natural to turn to music as a kind of therapy — a way to process difficult feelings and come closer to healing. Effective therapy requires moments of intense focus on the issues at hand as well as times of rest and self-care, and 6666 provides both elements.”
— from my Frontrunner review & interview feature with Four Fists (read the entirety here).
Favorite track: “Dork Court”
67. Saba — CARE FOR ME
For a few years, Saba has garnered attention for his work on other people’s songs, including great verses on Chance the Rapper’s “Everybody’s Something” and “Angels,” Joey Purp’s “Cornerstore,” and, this year, Noname’s “Ace.” On his second album, Saba dives deep into his truth, highlighting the connections between poverty and chaos, and his recognizable new-Chicago-school flow sounds great over sparse but often gorgeous production.
Favorite tracks: “SMILE,” “PROM/KING”
66. Christine & The Queens — Chris
It’s rare that a pop sensation who doesn’t speak fluent English breaks into the American music scene, but Christine & The Queens showed us how it’s done. This music is unabashedly queer, unembarrassed about its nostalgia for disco, and beautifully performed with full breadth of voice and feeling. (By the way, she released an all-English version, but I definitely recommend sticking to the original French one.)
Favorite track: “Comme si”
65. The Little Miss — American Dream EP
“When you listen to the music of The Little Miss–or Hayley Johnson, as she’s known off-stage–it can feel like you’ve entered a time warp to a “simpler” time. That time is somewhere near the middle of last century, and the location is somewhere in America, most likely a part where the stars shine real bright.” — from my Frontrunner interview feature with The Little Miss (read the entirety here)
Favorite track: “American Dream”
Also read: my review of the track “American Dream”
64. Troye Sivan — Bloom
South African pop-star Troye Sivan delivers an extremely fun album about discovering yourself through relationships with other people and, most frequently, through sex. This is like Pixy Stix for your ears.
Favorite track: “My My My!”
63. Jon Hopkins — Singularity
With electronics as his medium and long-game composition as his most palpable strength, Jon Hopkins’ music sounds like classical music for robots from the future. But if, like me, you are a human, you will still enjoy the way it transports you to a calmer place.
Favorite track: “Everything Connected”
62. Phosphorescent — C’est la Vie
Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck has a proclivity for revelatory music, and, luckily for us, he has had a lot of revelations recently. C’est la Vie is about the passage of time, about who he was and who he will be, and, in particular, about who his newborn child will be. It also contains my favorite track of 2018 that sports both pedal steel and Auto-Tune: “Christmas Down Under.”
Favorite tracks: “New Birth In New England,” “Christmas Down Under”
61. illuminati hotties — Kiss Yr Frenemies
LA’s Sarah Tudzin channels a lot of different strong indie energies here — the wistfulness of Angel Olsen, the self-awareness of Regina Spektor, the emotional distance of Bon Iver, the sarcastic rock of Weezer, the feminist sass of Rilo Kiley-era Jenny Lewis — and really, shouldn’t we all, if we are truly presenting ourselves as full people?
Favorite track: “(You’re Better) Than Ever”
60. Jorja Smith — Lost & Found
Based on this, her first studio album, Jorja Smith‘s singing voice is already totally legendary, like a unique mix between that of Rihanna and Norah Jones.
Favorite track: “February 3rd”
59. Chvrches — Love Is Dead
While Chvrches’ third album somehow lacks the intangible magical spark of their first two, the trio is still churning out really mindfully crafted and high-quality dance pop. Just because the bar was already set at the top of the mountain doesn’t mean the view isn’t stellar from half-way up.
Favorite tracks: “Graffiti,” “Get Out”
58. Drake — Scorpion
When you are as famous as Drake — and few people are — I imagine it is hard to avoid getting bogged down by the need to use your albums to respond to all the people who have a stake in your life. Scorpion is, unfortunately, in large part a vessel of communication, a relationship-management tool disguised as an album.
But while it’s probably Drake’s least interesting album in terms of messaging, its triumph lies in Drake’s return to musical, artistic balance. Not only does Drizzy beautifully incorporate every era of his decade-long career into one — albeit too long — album, but he also achieves an ideal balance in his important bimodality as Rapping Drake and Singing Drake. In recent years, Aubrey’s inescapably iconic — and, more importantly, expressive — singing voice has been extremely underutilized to make more room for rap verses about “tings.” Really, Drake is at his best when he blurs the line between rapping and singing and you don’t even notice because you’re in your feelings along with him; and that’s what’s good about Scorpion.
Favorite track: “God’s Plan”
57. Joey Purp — QUARTERTHING
The simple but semantically packed line, “she like how the car stop but the rims don’t,” from Joey Purp’s single “Bag Talk,” burrowed itself into my psyche months ago and has managed to get stuck in my head as much as any line this year. Joey can write verses and choose beats with the best of them, but his real gift to us is the profound passion with which he delivers every single word.
Favorite tracks: “QUARTERTHING,” “Bag Talk”
56. Black Thought — Streams of Thought, Vol. 1 and Vol 2.
You know Black Thought, right? But did you know that the legendary Roots MC delivered two volumes of Streams of Thought this year — one in June, and one in November? Well it’s true, and, as expected, every track is a nutritious source of satisfying rhymes you could have never previously imagined; witty, weird connections; and, on top of that, hard, important truths about contemporary American society.
Favorite track: “Twofifteen”
55. Smino — NØIR
Smino has a knack for packing his verses with so much weird meaning and personality that you are left in a kind of endorphin-induced stupor, like he just slapped you in your mind.
Favorite track: “Bam 2X”
54. Cautious Clay — Blood Type
Cautious Clay is early in his career, but it’s obvious he’s dripping in star-power. On Blood Type, he uses his breathy but powerful vocals to deliver seven short but soulful indie-R&B jams about the difficulty of communicating who you really are, not only through spoken language but also through appearance and actions.
Favorite track: “Cold War”
Also read: my interview with Cautious Clay
53. Porches — The House
This dark and moody collection from Aaron Maine, a.k.a. Porches, was released in mid-January 2018 and is one I kept coming back to all year. Maybe it’s because I can’t wrap my head around the fact that his songs can be both sparse and lush. Or maybe it’s just because it’s catchy.
Favorite tracks: “W Longing,” “Leave The House”
52. Black Panther Soundtrack
Yes, this came out in 2018. Part of what makes that unbelievable is the speed and aggression with which Black Panther was consumed, talked about, and reflected on, and then how long it’s had to percolate since then.
Has it been long enough that we can all be honest now? This is a Kendrick Lamar album disguised as a soundtrack. Even more than that, and to borrow a term from Drake’s More Life, it’s a Kendrick Lamar-curated playlist: a way for Kendrick to give the world his two cents on what’s up and who’s good in black music right now. To be star-studded is not the same thing as to be truly good, but with the guidance of K-Dot this album is actually remarkably cohesive for a movie-inspired album. And, another point: any art that involves 2 Chainz saying he came back straight from hell and went to Benihana gets my stamp of approval.
Favorite track: “X”
51. Big Red Machine — Big Red Machine
Justin Vernon collaborated with The National’s Aaron Dessner on this experimental indie album that manages to be both unsettling and calming throughout, and which contains one of the most powerfully understated lyrics of the year in, “It’s a very hard thing to have grief.”
Favorite tracks: “I Won’t Run From It,” “Forest Green”