Don’t you hate when you’re reading a food blog and you’re all hangry and feeling some kinda way, and you have to scroll down like 80 times in order to get to the goddamn recipe? Yeah, me too. Here’s a list of albums I liked this year. I deem them “the best,” but really they’re just my faves. Have at it boss.
I included 18 picks for 2018, but these juuuust missed the cut. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga gave us a soundtrack of stunners for the film A Star Is Born, but the album misses the mark because I just CAN NOT with those Ally tracks. It was fantastic to see (and hear) The Breeders return to the fold—alt-rock royalty will always have a place in my heart. Speaking of, David Byrne was active this year as well and I neglected to catch him live. For that, I shall live in regret and hold myself in contempt.
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga — A Star Is Born Soundtrack
Jeff Rosenstock — POST-
Caroline Rose – Loner
The Breeders — All Nerve
Failure — In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind
David Byrne — American Utopia
Best Albums of 2018:
18. Snail Mail — Lush
My picks for 18 and 17 are two young female singer-songwriters and guitarists whose honesty and raw emotion provided some of the best coming-of-age indie pop-rock of the year. Snail Mail is comprised of the inner thoughts of 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan, whose slow-burn arrangements beautifully complement conversational lyrics that are just as poignant as they are sharp. While swirling guitars hang on her every word, Jordan emotes a realness that’s fit for a teen but also relatable. On “Heat Wave” she sings: “And I hope whoever it is holds their breath around you…Cause I know I did / And I hope the love that you find swallows you wholly like you said it might.” There’s nothing quite like unrequited teenage love…and a debut record this strong.
17. Soccer Mommy — Come Clean
Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison is just one year older than Snail Mail’s Jordan, and her penchant for hushed melodies and pointed strums are just as effective. Another of Gen Z’s buzzworthy heartbreak kids, Allison sings of loneliness and love like a modern-day Liz Phair. But just because she waxes poetic about the occasional morning sad doesn’t mean her inner angst is silenced. She breaks free on “Your Dog” singing, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog…I want a love that lets me breathe. I’ve been choking on your leash.” Clean is full of tight indie rock songwriting that’s the perfect companion piece to Lush.
16. Lily Allen — No Shame Lily Allen lost me with 2014’s confused, pandering Sheezus and that’s partly why No Shame is so exciting: it’s a return to form. Although “Trigger Bang” is a stylish bop, those looking for the next “Smile” or “LDN” might be disappointed. Shame is filled with slow jams and ballads about her new life as a mom and her exit from the UK party scene, and it’s refreshing to see Allen this stripped down. “Three” is written from the perspective of her young daughter who’s confused when her mom keeps leaving for tours and other obligations. “Apples” samples Cigarettes After Sex as Allen tussles with the realization that her marriage and life have gone astray. “Now I’m exactly where I didn’t want to be / I’m just like my mummy and daddy / I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Imagine publicly releasing a recording of your last therapy session. That’s exactly what Allen’s latest feels like.
Black Panther wasn’t only one of the most socially relevant films of the year, it was also one of the best. And who better than to lead the charge of a ferocious, soundtrack of pop-leaning hip-hop bangers than the infallible Kendrick Lamar? The answer: no one. Joining Lamar is SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Khalid, Vince Staples, Jorja Smith, Anderson .Paak, Future, and more, proving that like the film, Black Panther: The Album is equally as fitting to rep 2018 and the zeitgeist of today.
14. MGMT — Little Dark Age
Coming off what was perhaps the duo’s most confusing and inaccessible album (2013’s self-titled jaunt), MGMT returned this year with a strong release that was still exploratory, but with more focus. After the group’s initial outing, Oracular Spectacular, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser left catchy hooks behind in lieu of absurdity and experimentation. Over four albums, they orbited the sonic stratosphere and here, have seemingly found a compromise in their chemistry of hooks and electronic eccentricities. The title track is one of their best cuts maybe ever, but it’s the dream pop of “Me and Michael” that feels both magical and surreal, like hovering in a half-asleep dreamscape on the precipice of a rude awakening.
13. Blood Orange — Negro Swan
For Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, music, like life, is free-flowing, natural and oceanic. Putting on a Blood Orange album—especially Negro Swan—means strapping in and enjoying the ride completely. Here, Hynes focuses on identity politics, and what it means to be black, anxious, depressed and different in an increasingly heteronormative and toxic environment. (Suffice to say—there’s a lot going on here.) His ideas may seem unruly, but when swallowed whole, they flow into one voice that examines society today and one man’s journey navigating that often treacherous terrain. Hynes’ style is minimalist, but it stretches the gamut of alt-pop, chillwave, spacey R&B, and hip-hop. It may be downtempo but it’s an absolute delight.
12. Robyn — Honey
Honey is…not what anyone was expecting from Swedish songstress Robyn. Her first release since 2010’s critically acclaimed Body Talk, Honey is perhaps her most introspective release yet and a definite departure from the electro-pop that made her famous. This time, it feels like she really might’ve actually been (slow) dancing on her own while cutting this terse nine-track collection. “Missing U” boasts a pulsing beat that works double-time as an homage to her fans and tribute to her late friend and collaborator, Christian Falk. “Between the Lines” is a house jam that sounds like something from MTV’s The Grind or the ’90s house scene. On “Ever Again,” she bravely touts that she’s, “Never gonna be brokenhearted ever again / I’m only gonna sing about love ever again.” Whatever the case may be, I hope it’s not another eight years before Robyn reveals herself again.
11. The Coup — Sorry To Bother You: The Soundtrack
The Coup frontman and rapper-activist Boots Riley directed one of the most bizarre and entertaining films of the year. Sorry To Bother You delivered WTF-moment after WTF-moment as it playfully satirized race, class and the media. It only makes sense that Riley’s funky, punky, hip-hop soul band would provide the tunes. “OYAHYTT,” featuring the movie’s star LaKeith Stanfield, is a toe-tapping rocker packed with energy and attitude. Tune-Yards, Killer Mike and Janelle Monáe show up to lend a hand on some of the album’s best tracks: the Run the Jewels rapper’s verse in “Monsoon” leaves us wanting more Mike, while Monáe and Riley sing together on the album’s catchiest cut, “Whatthegirlmuthafuckinwannadoo.” See the movie ASAP and then kickstart your next party with its soundtrack.
10. Courtney Barnett — Tell Me How You Really Feel
Is there any other artist today as consistent as Courtney Barnett? The Australian singer-songwriter made a name for herself with rambling lyricism and deadpan vocals, both of which were a breath of fresh air on 2013’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Five years later, Barnett shows zero signs of slumping on her sophomore release. A woman well known for her words, this time she’s choosing them even more carefully. On “Hopelessness” she sings, “You know what they say, no one’s born to hate / We learn it somewhere along the way / Take your broken heart, Turn it into art / Can’t take it with you.” She’s feistier than normal on “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” and invokes her inner Tom Petty on “Charity,” singing: “You don’t have to pretend you’re not scared / Everyone else is just as terrified as you…I bet you got a lot to prove / I know you’re still the same.” It’s like she’s reading my soul.
9. Nao — Saturn
If New Jack Swing existed in 2018, Nao’s Saturn is exactly what it would sound like. The English singer-songwriter from East London mixes old school R&B sounds with fuzzy electronics, funk and soul creating a sound that is both nostalgic and fresh at the same time. The title track is a prime example of the record’s soul-infused sounds. Elsewhere, the slow-crooning “Curiosity” is primed and ready for an EDM remix or 10, while “Another Lifetime” grieves a relationship that could’ve and should’ve worked: “How I wish perfect was enough for my own heart / I guess I’ll wait another lifetime.” Nao is 100% smooth-sounding heart.
8. Superorganism — Superorganism
Indie pop takes many shapes and forms, but there was no quirkier version of it this year than Superorganism’s eponymous debut. While the album plays like a mixtape your friends made in their parents’ basement, the songs are well arranged, sonically diverse and catchy as hell. It’s internet music made for the internet age—and maybe that’s what happens when you recruit a high schooler to join the band and carry lead vocals. The album sports a mix of traditional instruments, synths and samples. “It’s a good mix of everything. Sometimes we use field recordings. Sometimes we use royalty free sound effects websites. And sometimes we’re looking for specific audio clips, so we look for that on YouTube,” said singer Orono Noguchi. Look no further than “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” and “Everybody Wants to Be Famous” for prime examples of that.
7. John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies — Halloween Original Soundtrack
The return of Michael Myers was one of this year’s most defining pop culture moments. The franchise roared to life thanks to David Gordon Green’s sequel which starred original Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis and ignored the shaky sequels that followed the original masterpiece. As if a horror nerd like myself could get any more hyped, the legendary John Carpenter signed on to write and compose the original soundtrack along with his son Cody and Daniel Davies, producing one of the year’s greatest film scores and a treat for fans of the Master of Horror. The trio not only took another stab at the bone-chilling Myers theme, revitalizing and amplifying the 40-year-old score, but it jump-started new tracks to help tell the story of a weathered Laurie Strode who’s not only a survivor, but a woman suffering with PTSD. The track “Halloween Triumphant” slices deep with industrial elements and searing guitars that would make Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross quake. Triumphant, indeed.
6. Erika Wennerstrom — Sweet Unknown
Heartless Bastards frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom has made a career of perfecting southern-tinged Americana Rock that’s filled with empathy and sentiment, and served with a side of snarl. Her solo debut may be viewed as more of the same, but the songs here have an emotional core that America so desperately needed this year. On “Be Good To Yourself,” she reminds us: “When you’re hanging on the line and the weight is pulling you under / Hold tight like always, the winds change…I know you can get through this time, Just remember be good to yourself.” On “Letting Go,” she croons: “Oh I’m letting go as the days go by / Letting go of what doesn’t matter / And I’m searching for all the good things in my life…I turned around and I found myself in the here and now / And I whispered softly you’re gonna be alright.” It’s auditory therapy for the soul.
5. Carpenter Brut — Leather Teeth
Carpenter Brut’s Leather Teeth sounds like it’s birthed straight from the ’80s, as if soundtracking the score to an out-of-print hidden gem that’s only streamable on YouTube. French synthwave artist Franck Hueso masterfully blends sounds from horror movies, metal, rock and electronica to create a tight, eight-track collection of crazy-culty-coolness. The title track exudes John Carpenter influence, while “Beware the Beast” could play alongside any slasher end credit sequence. While Brut’s tunes come pre-loaded with nostalgia, it’s the fusion of feels that makes it the perfect album to dance to, rock to or veg out with. Plus, they’ve got the visuals to back it all up.
4. Leon Bridges — Good Thing
Although the “re-emergence of retro R&B” thing has pretty much been beaten to death, Leon Bridges is so good at it, I don’t even care. Good Thing feels way less packaged than its predecessor and that’s, uhh, a good thing. Here, Bridges is more expansive, taking ownership of his soul sound and adding individual flair to it. There’s a few clunkers (“If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” is a wannabe Pharrell cut pandering for plays), but when Bridges hits, he hits hard. “Shy” is a straight up vibe. “Forgive You” is a cathartic release that soars thanks to Bridges’ buttery vocals. “You Don’t Know” makes you want to boogie. It’s an ambitious record by a talented artist who’s striving for the skies.
3. Twin Shadow — Caer
Caer is my #1 pick for the most underrated album of the year. George Lewis Jr.’s fourth record pairs new wave with alt-pop that’s splashed with ’80s sounds that are reminiscent of both George Michael and Tom Petty. HAIM guests on “Saturdays,” the most recognizable of the collection, which feels fit for the modern-day equivalent of a John Hughes movie soundtrack. The album doesn’t drown in the past though. “When You’re Wrong” is a contemporary ditty filled with conflict and sexual tension. Lewis sings about unrequited and misdirected love throughout and the pains of growing up and making mistakes. On the synth-heavy “Littlest Things,” he bemoans, “Keep me awake, don’t ever take these melodies coming through / You were the one, when I start to run I’ve been running back to you.” The record emotes melancholy in various tones and forms, like on “Runaway,” where he sings, “Nothing’s gonna change unless you change.” Caer examines growing pains and lessons learned by an artist taking control of the next step in his lifelong journey.
2. Mitski — Be the Cowboy
Be the Cowboy, the latest from Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski, is her bleeding heart recorded. Its songs are the confessions of an introvert—a glimpse into the conflicting psychology of a woman who’d much rather spend time alone, but who simultaneously needs to feel, to be kissed. She sings about regret over lost loves; she questions why she’s lonely for “Lonesome Love” despite the fact that “Nobody fucks me like me;” she pines over how “Nobody” wants her: “And I know no one will save me, I just need someone to kiss, Give me one good honest kiss and I’ll be alright.” Her lyrics are poetic, unraveling on tracks that are sometimes merely two minutes or less. Cowboy is music to lose yourself in, music for loners who may feel lost or lonely themselves. You can put in headphones and be swept away by sadness, but Mitski somehow makes it OK, reminding you that you’re not alone.
1. Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
This year, no record was more important than Dirty Computer. For those who’ve been following Monáe’s Metropolis suite, the singer’s coming out as pansexual was no surprise and Computer helped tell her story in her own way. Afrofuturism was still on full display in the album’s accompanying “emotion picture,” but feminist and pro-LGBTQIA ideology took center stage. On “Django Jane,” she stakes her claim as a fierce, proud black woman in a society that’s always tried to keep her down. “Pynk” is a celebration of love, sexual fluidity, and femininity. On “Crazy, Classic Life,” she yearns to be able to live her life without judgment or regret singing, “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream…I just wanna find a guy, and I hope she loves me too.”
The album’s messages of love, acceptance and racial struggle ring louder than ever given America’s flaming hot political climate these last two years. As we continue hearing stories of racial injustices and witness the LGBT community continue to struggle for basic human rights, Dirty Computer has never felt more relevant and powerful. America is even waging war against women’s rights and sexuality which in 2018 feels overtly puritanical and absurd. Monáe counters on “Screwed,” belting: “Let’s get screwed! I don’t care. You fucked the world up now, we’ll fuck it all back down,” and later, “Hundred men telling me cover up my areolas, while they blocking equal pay, sippin’ on they Coca Colas.”
The album, much like Monáe herself, is fearless and strong, but it doesn’t get lost in its politics. “Make Me Feel” is a dance party taken straight from Prince’s 1999 while “Take A Byte” boasts flirty fun. She closes with “Americans,” a track that’s both frisky and faithful. Despite what she’s been through, Monáe isn’t bitter, she’s optimistic. “Love me baby, love me for who I am / Fallen angels singing, ‘clap your hands’ / Don’t try to take my country, I will defend my land / I’m not crazy, baby, no, I’m American.” Mic. Drop.