The best 18 albums and EPs of 2018

By Apa Agbayani, Jam Pascual, Carina Santos, and Anton Tablante

 

It is entirely possible to spend a whole year listening, on loop, to the same 20 or 30-odd songs you’ve loved your whole life. Music, after all, is something to come home to, and one way to weather the atmosphere of temporal distortion that defines our times (it has been a long-ass year, my friend) is to return to the nostalgically pleasing, the familiar.

Still, that’s part of the joy of year-end lists like this: to imbue a sense of structure to the year that was, and to get updated on the things we’ve missed out on.

In terms of music, 2018 seems to have been a year of dark horses. Yes, Cardi B and Ariana Grande, Billboard giants in their own right, released some pretty groundbreaking stuff this year, but consistent chart-toppers like Drake and Kanye West also ended up coming out with pretty mediocre shit. Neither of those names are on here. More interesting, powerful releases were to be found in the peripheries. Indie rock, unconventional pop, rap that doesn’t use trap triplets as a crutch, even country — all these styles could stake a claim on some of 2018’s most disarmingly moving releases. And speaking of the margins, this year also gave us a handful of a rare breed of EP, the kind strong enough to compete with full-fledged albums.

Here on this list, you are bound to find a few albums that escaped your radar, but we bet will inevitably come to comprise some of the songs you’ll loop for the rest of your life.

These albums are listed in no particular order, with no ranking — all 18 of these records deserve a spot at the top, but we’ll leave judging what the best album of 2018 is to you. Happy listening. Welcome the unfamiliar.

The Internet – “Hive Mind”

A contender for funkiest album of 2018, “Hive Mind” is The Internet’s crowning achievement, a magnum opus of new-age, electronic-influenced soul-R&B. The Internet mixes together old-school R&B crooning and songwriting with analog loops, samples, and synth hits that all jumble together into some seriously danceable tracks, as on La Di Da. On other tracks, they show off their soul chops — Come Over has lead singer Syd showing off her vocal prowess, accompanied by simple guitar and bass chords. “Hive Mind” has it all — funk to jive to, and soul to relax to. — Anton Tablante

No Rome – “RIP Indo Hisashi”

It’s been a big year for No Rome. After releasing an EP with Number Line Records (“Hurry Home & Rest”) in 2015, No Rome uprooted his life and moved to London, where he had just finished working on The 1975’s latest release, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships.” For himself, No Rome makes pop tunes that sound jubilant and distinctly his own, infectious but inventive all the same. The four-track EP, “RIP Indo Hisashi,” goes by so quickly but delivers a very casual coolness that makes you want to quietly dance on your commute and chill out after a long day in a short span of 20 minutes. And when you’re done, it makes you want to hit repeat and do it all over again. —Carina Santos

The 1975 – “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”

A concept album is a gamble. Acts can approach it with so much seriousness that the music loses all its playfulness, or they can slap a lazy “unifying theme” on two hours of unrelated songs and call it a day. The 1975’s “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” is precisely what it says it is — an extended meditation on modern love. Modern love can mean anything from dancing to ‘80s synths like in It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) to fighting through social injustice together like in Love It If We Made It. The hour-long record makes for a playful, sonically rich journey that never loses sight of the connection it must make. —Apa Agbayani

Now Now – “Saved”

For the sake of topicality, let’s say that Now Now’s “Saved,” pivotal in its shift from the band’s old indie emo sound to alternative pop, sounds the way Pantone’s color of the year looks. Living Coral is apt — full of verve and bloom, the hue of a sunset bathing an open field, seen blurred through the window of a car slicing through the NLEX highway 100 miles per hour. “Pick it up, baby, if we’re moving too slow,” Cacie Dalager sings, the line both casual flirtation and fervid supplication. What to do with all that light and longing? In “Saved,” Now Now navigates all of that, glossy, with the top down. —Jam Pascual

Lucy Dacus – “The Historian”

When “The Historian” came out in the first quarter of 2018, I knew I’d found my favourite one of the year. Dacus documents different kinds of heartache — where the personal is political and the political is personal — with a honey-coated voice that carries you through the pages she has already managed to write. Following up an already stellar debut, No Burden, Dacus finetunes her songwriting with a stark and subtle imagery (likely influenced by Dacus’ voracious reading habits) and gleaming arrangements that sound intimate at home, but swallow you up in person. “The Historian” is an album you want to grow old with. —CS

Snail Mail – “Lush”

Lush carries on after Lindsay Jordan’s first EP, Sticki (self-recorded when she was only 15), and Habit, another well-lauded EP released under the name Snail Mail. Jordan’s deep unwavering alto offers a misdirection of nonchalance — a “can’t be bothered, won’t be bothered,” “it is what it is” look at life — but underneath that and gritty instrumentation, Lush is heavy with wry declarations of loss and longing. Along with Jordan, it grows up and moves away from the teen years, a time when these feelings are explosive and enormous, capturing the particularities of when they happen and, for others, when they are remembered. —CS

Deafheaven – “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”

The mundane is inherently brutal — this is the thesis Deafheaven posits in “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.” The descriptor of black metal shoegaze may have been an apt descriptor for the band’s past releases, but at this point in their career, the category just doesn’t cut it. Though we’re still treated to such sonic barrages, tidal waves of distortion and all, Deafheaven is a little more musical adventurous this time around, harvesting heaviness even in their softest passages. The sonic architecture this album builds has to be that weird, to make room for a line like “The red and yellow tents of strangers / gifting geese / the ends of bread,” and to have that line screamed as if invoking the cries of hell’s deepest pits. Or just the world. The world, and the ordinariness of all this living. —JP

Megumi Acorda – “Unexpectedly”

“Unexpectedly” is mesmerizing, hypnotizing dream pop. Within the EP’s four tracks, Megumi Acorda takes the listener through a journey of alienation and love, accompanied by the hazy chords of her guitar, and the hope that we won’t all be alone one day. Acorda’s reverberated voice soars, haunting each track as if a whisper that grows louder with every soft drum fill. On Ghost, Acorda croons of an existence that is all for nought, if not for the very being of her beloved, a source of warmth for her soul. Unexpectedly is an EP handmade for self-reflection and careful pondering. —AT

Yo La Tengo – “There’s a Riot Going On”

When you’re as prolific and legendary as Yo La Tengo, I imagine it’s quite hard to make something that you haven’t quite made, in an industry that’s both exciting and already saturated with new voices clamouring for attention. But when you’re as prolific and legendary as Yo La Tengo, people will sit up and listen. What “There’s a Riot Going On” offers is a comfort rather than a warning, despite what the album name might say. Expect a series of tunes that only a three-piece group who’s worked together for as long as they have (26 years!) can make. —CS

Brockhampton  – “Iridescence”

They’re the best (hip-hop) boy band in the world, plain and simple. Brockhampton’s fourth album “Iridescence” is their most varied LP so far, which is a wonder, considering the stylistic differences between their three Saturation albums. On “Iridescence,” we have the hard and fast “Saturation II”-style bangers such as New Orleans and Berlin, combined with the slower, alternative “Saturation III”inspired R&B jams such as album enders Tonya and Fabric. Hell, in J’ouvert, there’s a discordant, yet sonically pleasing mish-mash of the two styles. Going through “Iridescence” is a wild, joyous romp that really shows off the group’s chops. —AT

Noname – “Room 25”

No rap album this year had the same quiet beauty as Noname’s “Room 25.” Fatima Warner’s flow is all elegant spoken word — warm, honest, self-reflexive. It feels as if she’s sat you down to tell you a story, one of coming to terms with who she is in the world as a Black woman and poet. She talks racism (Blaxploitation), sexuality (Montego Bae) and loneliness (Window) over soft jubilant jazz and neo-soul. While the sonic landscapes are almost dreamlike, her cutting lines ground the experience in the world. —AA

Kids See Ghosts – “Kids See Ghosts”

Kanye and Kid Cudi share a psychic, almost supernatural bond that leads to incredible chemistry on their tracks together, and “Kids See Ghosts” is proof. This chemistry, coupled with Kanye’s immaculate, otherworldly production, leads to an album filled with mind-bending, mind-blowing tracks from minute one. The LP pushes the boundaries of hip-hop, incorporating musical elements straight out of left field — from the mantra-like chanting in Fire, to the jazz samples in 4th Dimension. Kanye and Cudi’s lyricism is top-notch as well, all contributing to an album that preaches of 21st century brokenness in a different dimension. —AT

Soccer Mommy – “Clean”

Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison opens her debut album with the line, “In the summer, you said you loved me like an animal.” It’s the beginning of a record whose powerful songwriting grapples with love in all its monstrosity and tenderness. She explores the way we diminish ourselves for love (Your Dog), or come to redeem ourselves (Blossom (Wasting All My Time)). Allison is at the height of her powers in Scorpio Rising, named after her own natal chart placement that she blames for a failed romance. She sings, “I’m just a victim of changing planets, my Scorpio rising and my parents,” and you cannot help but think of the ways your stars may have ruined love before it’s even begun. —AA

Denzel Curry – “Ta13oo”

Denzel Curry’s masterpiece “Ta13oo” is crafted to replicate a dark fall, reflected by its split into three sections: Light, Gray, and Dark. The LP starts with Light. These tracks are poppier than the rest, with Curry mostly rapping about the glory that comes with being a rapper. On Gray, Curry starts to intensify, rapping about serious topics such as police brutality. Finally, on Dark, Curry is fully unhinged. It contains a violent barrage of verses that reflect the darkest part of Curry’s psyche. “Ta13oo” serves as a reminder that our humanity is fragile, that we can crack at any moment. —AT

Hop Along – “Bark Your Head Off, Dog”

Imagine a memory or feeling that still surfaces in your brain at random parts of the day, impossible to neatly file away. Like how in Somewhere A Judge, Frances Quinlan meditates on how “death, indiscriminate, drags off the newborn buck with the broken leg,” wrapping her head at the same time around news of eight executions, and imagining a judge taking a vacation from duties of justice. Then she wonders aloud to her friend, “I don’t know why I’m so mean each time I come to visit.” In “Bark Your Head Off, Dog,” the significance of both minutiae and monumental events muscle their way out from the periphery, make their announcements against a backdrop of folk rock that sounds nothing like the chintzy shit most run-of-the-mill indie movies peddle.“Bark Your Head Off, Dog” takes this maddening lucidity, and sings, eloquent and raw. —JP

boygenius – “s/t”

As news of supergroup, boygenius, erupted, part of me felt like it was too good to be true. Individually, members Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus have all had an enviable career track in the last few years, each with albums released to immediate critical praise, favoured and revered by fans. On the sparse, six-track, self-titled EP, where no song is filler, Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus let one another shine, each lending the particularities of their songwriting and voice to the album, proving that each moving part is indispensable, somehow highlighting each one, without overshadowing any of the rest. —CS

Mitski – “Be The Cowboy”

I’ve always thought of “Be The Cowboy” as a hallway of Impressionist paintings — done brash but precise, rich with color, evocative in ways that can be difficult to explain. In each song, Mitski sketches out a scene’s key visuals (a blue light, a school gymnasium, a taxi she’s “so very paying for”) then colors in the rest with immense feeling. It rebels against the notion of the female singer-songwriter as “confessional.” Through the clattering Washing Machine Heart to the glittering ache of Nobody, Mitski slips in and out of roles in the fictions she crafts: the writer of her own Western, and the actress playing the cowboy. —AA

Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour”

There’s a case to be made that “Golden Hour,” country singer Kacey Musgraves’ fourth album, is this year’s quiet crossover masterpiece. The album hits that sweet spot between country and pop sensibilities, playing through a range of tones to offer something for everybody. There’s the winsomeness of Love Is A Wild Thing, the electric swagger of Velvet Elvis, and the disco shimmer of High Horse. But the immense breakup ballad Space Cowboy is the centerpiece of the album. She paints the end of love with the warmth, wistfulness and honesty it deserves. What ultimately grounds the record is Musgraves’ confident, measured storytelling — arguably the true heart of country music. —AA

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