As the year 2018 comes to a close, we picked a selection of more than twenty of the best albums released this year that we think are some of the most exceptional, engaging and exciting albums! If you've missed some of the releases below, make sure to listen and scrobble them!
Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
Five years after The Electric Lady, Janelle Monáe delivers what is certainly one of the best albums of 2018. Blending R&B, soul and funk to perfection, Janelle surprised and impressed everyone with a futuristic, disruptive album. The progression of the tracklist is coherent, the production is lush and airy, and the vocals are confident and captivating.
What really makes this project so powerful is its ability to transmit a constant liberating stream of freedom, empowerment and self-love. Janelle Monáe is urging her listeners to live their truths and to take back control over their destiny. The androgynous and fluid singer is more confident than ever, spreading hope and positivity. Through her lyrics and with determination, she conveys a strong and powerful message against prejudice and the destructive patriarchal world that surrounds us. It's an album David Bowie and Prince would have been proud of. (M.V.)
Sophie — Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides
With her debut album, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides ('I Love Every Person's Insides'), Scottish producer Sophie Xeon continues to disrupt and to show us a glimpse of what the future of pop music could be. She has already been very pro-active at instilling her hyper-pop deviance into the work of other artists such as Charli XCX, Let's Eat Grandma and Vince Staples and now is her time to shine. Like a conductor, she commands her army of sounds to perfection, controlling her immaterial orchestra of transfigured synths, noise, and saturation masterfully. The mesmerising production is enhanced by a multitude of abstract and stretched vocal interventions that act like appearances spreading the gospel of her whole new world, opening the gates of a new musical and existential realm. SOPHIE's versatility takes the concept of deconstruction applied to music to a new level, using pop to catch our imagination with ease while instilling a euphoric, addictive artistic statement that establishes her as an electronic pioneer and High Priestess of Pop. (M.V.)
Blood Orange — Negro Swan
Two years after the impressive Freetown Sound, the gifted songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Devonté Hynes came back this year with his fourth album, Negro Swan. A fluid and engaging album with a smooth, dreamy aesthetic that incorporates a variety of genres such as soft R&B, Synth funk, contemporary R&B and guest appearances by Steve Lacy of The Internet, Puff Daddy, ASAP Rocky and American activist and writer Janet Mock. The record beautifully explores moving aspirations such as wanting to be accepted and not be the odd one out, being comfortable in your own skin and being your best and truest self. In the words of Hynes himself, Negro Swan is "a reach back into childhood and modern traumas, and the things we do to get through it all. The underlying thread through each piece on the album is the idea of hope, and the lights we can try to turn on within ourselves with a hopefully positive outcome of helping others out of their darkness." (M.V.)
Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
While retaining a distinctively experimental approach, the new album of Oneohthrix Point Never is probably his most accessible project and features vocal contributions by Anohni and Prurient, with production and mixing by James Blake. The result is OPN's most diverse work to date, a fascinating collage of influences from classical to new age, all carefully crafted into a haunting excursion inside Daniel Lopatin's obsessions. (M.V.)
Young Fathers — Cocoa Sugar
Scottish trio Young Fathers returns with a consequential third album, Cocoa Sugar. The 2014 Mercury Prize winners' unique sound is more powerful, urgent and free than ever, using hip-hop as a foundation and introducing a frenetic mix of indie-pop, tribal, R&B, punk and soul music to it. The result, charged with socio-political messages, is one of the most relevant and best experimental pop album of 2018. (M.V.)
Mitski — Be the Cowboy
Part of creating art is giving emotions a new life. From remorse over growing up too fast to complacency over settling for less, Mitski has always strung these feelings into compelling songs. Made of honest lyrics and intuitive guitar work, they're representations of very real experiences that let listeners feel understood.
Mitski takes a different approach to songwriting in Be the Cowboy. Instead of displaying her feelings upfront, she dreams up vignettes and lets listeners dive into the universe of every emotion. "Old Friend," a song that finds itself curious about a past love, conjures nostalgia by painting a picture of a small town diner that people tend to go back to. "Nobody" zeroes in on a lonely narrator who seemingly forges a happy-go-lucky melody as a way to cheer herself up. Then there's the playful "Washing Machine Heart," which throws listeners right in the heat of a romantic flame.
While less confessional, Be the Cowboy still very much confronts emotions, just from new perspectives. (C.C.)
Tirzah – Devotion
Tirzah's debut studio album, Devotion, overflows with soulful vibes. She glues her songs together with unconventional structures that come together organically smooth. Opening track "Fine Again," for example, alternates between a scattered guitar jangle and Tirzah's warm vocals. Its dissonance creates a troubled undertone that Tirzah soothes away with croons of comfort. She continues to use her asymmetrical craftwork to channel different genres, such as hip-hop in "Do You Know" and lo-fi synth-pop in "Holding On." Perhaps the most captivating is "Guilty," which infuses melodic rapping with indie riffs and piano balladry. Combining these bold sonic layers with Tirzah's vulnerable lyricism, Devotion shows that zealousness and softness can coexist in harmony. (C.C.)
Christine and the Queens – Chris
Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens traverses sonic realms from 1980s synth-pop to electro funk and glistens on Chris. The sophomore LP finds the French singer-songwriter reveling in her most recent and most pivotal life changes. As she embraces her newly shortened moniker, Chris also opens up about her sexuality, sensuality and gender fluidity. First track "Comme si" introduces Chris, confident and comfortable in her own skin. Its boisterous energy almost feels like rebirth. She continues to unravel elements about herself she no longer feels the need to hide, while bending genres for a limitless sound. It's a cathartic experience for both Chris and her listeners. (C.C.)
Low – Double Negative
Low manages to provoke so much emotion with heavy sounds and minimal lyrics. The Minnesota slowcore trio takes a night drive through various sonic tunnels on Double Negative, often heading into shadowy depths. The opening instrumental triptych, consisting of "Quorum," "Dancing and Blood" and "Fly," is gritty and consuming. From grimy fuzz and slow-motion distortions to light guitar strums, Low's enigmatic composure creates an unsettling sense of fear that extends through all 11 tracks. It feels like the end of the world. Regardless of what you make of the album, if you make sense of it at all, the ambiguity of Double Negative alone leaves a striking impression. (C.C.)
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Occasionally, my top artists on Last.fm will include the likes of Tame Impala, Baths and then Claude Debussy. There's something about the dichotomy of contemporary and classical music that provides a balanced experience, and Jon Hopkins gets it. The English producer infuses ambient beats with classical elements, stirring up a sonic aurora on Singularity. The LP starts with its volcanic title track and enters a glitch with "Emerald Rush" and "Neon Pattern Drum." It follows a cosmic flow that's dark and ominous at the beginning, but unwinds with the whimsical "Luminous Beings" and the elegant "Echo Dissolve" and "Recovery." In Singularity, Hopkins manages to combine a mélange of sounds cohesively, creating both an enthralling and reflective experience. (C.C.)
Lucy Dacus – Historian
Lucy Dacus' Historian is soul food for overthinkers and feelers. As someone who identifies as both, I instantly felt understood by Dacus' ability to articulate her experiences poetically and sonically. Historian observes multiple aspects of life through elaborate melodic structures that come across as mini movements. "Night Shift" attempts to navigate the fickleness of post-breakup stages; "The Shell" tackles writer's block; "Body to Flame" describes growing out of a friendship; and "Pillar of Truth" confronts mortality. With every track comes an ebb and flow of tones, from muted verses to fiery guitar riffs and orchestral embellishments. Historian hits the volatility and gravity of emotions spot on, living up to its title by extensive and enlightening introspection. (C.C.)
Robyn – Honey
In the world of synth-pop, heavy pulses and saturated soundscapes often rule the land. Robyn, however, goes against the status quo with absolute poise. Her take on the colorful genre is softer and muted, a warm hue that makes for an easygoing yet equally feel-good time.
After an eight-year gap since her last release, the Body Talks trilogy, Robyn returns with Honey. "Missing U" introduces a celestial ambience as its heartsick narrator calls into an empty abyss for a past love. This mood lives on in the following tracks, throbbing the strongest at "Baby Forgive Me" and "Send To Robin Immediately." Listeners hear a change of heart by title track, "Honey," in which the narrator resists giving into old flames. And then closing cut "Ever Again" celebrates full resilience post-breakup with a beaming melody. An album with a resolution is already pretty satisfying, but Robyn's addition of tender synth-pop is what makes Honey golden. (C.C.)
Beach House – 7
My inner daydreamer finds a lot of comfort in Beach House. The nu-gaze pair consistently delivers rich melodies coated with a soft, warm glow that's easy to get lost in. And as dreams often suggest, Beach House's music is layered with meaning. This is especially the case for 7, Beach House's (you guessed it) seventh LP. The 11-track album also brings the duo's catalog up to a total of 77 songs.
Concrete symbolism aside, 7 dives into themes darker than previous releases. "Dark Spring" opens the album with daunting cosmic imagery, and then rips straight into the crestfallen "Pay No Mind." "Lemon Glow" and " L'Inconnue" hypnotize with haunting, enigmatic successions, while "Drunk in LA" and "Girl of the Year" envision the isolating fate of a Hollywood starlet. Overcast with gloom, 7 ultimately brings outs the beauty in darkness through Beach House's ethereal lenses. It's definitely a significant landmark in the band's discography. (C.C.)
The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
When The 1975 released "Love It If We Made It," I admittedly expected to hear the many what-ifs of a relationship that could have lasted. I was wrong. The second single from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships turned out to be stacked with hard-hitting one-liners on today's social and political climate. It was indeed a plea for survival, but for humankind.
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships manages to be as introspective as it is observant of its surroundings. Songs like "I Like America & America Likes Me" and "It's Not Living (If It's Not With You)" lets listeners in on some of frontman Matty Healy's greatest fears and struggles. At the same time, it also creates discussions about topical issues, such as gun violence and drug addiction. It's an album that 2018 needs to hear. (C.C.)
Troye Sivan – Bloom
While Blue Neighborhood reminisces the suburban glory days of youth, Bloom sets Troye Sivan into young adulthood. It opens with the wide-eyed "Seventeen," in which the narrator tries to be part of an older crowd. "The Good Side" finds closure from past relationships, while cuts like the title track, "Lucky Strike" and "Animal" embrace the new. On top of following Sivan's growth, Bloom debuts Sivan at his most comfortable with himself. This self-confidence allows him to deliver vivid lyrics and dynamic melodies, both of which push Sivan beyond the borderlines of his Blue Neighborhood. (C.C.)
Boygenius – Boygenius EP
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus are currently three of indie's most powerful forces. Each of their music explores pain and grief with an unadulterated curiosity, resulting in heavyhearted splendor. Forming supergroup boygenius, the trio weaves their unique sonic textures into a short and bittersweet self-titled EP, rich in poignant and poetic anecdotes. Baker, Bridgers and Dacus take turns as lead vocals in every song, while also coming together for harmonies. "Bite the Hand," "Stay Down" and "Salt in the Wound" narrate internal battles that tend to plague relationships, while "Me & My Dog," "Souvenir" and "Ketchum, ID" provide scenic snapshots that glimmer with nostalgia. It's a small taste of what the group is capable of, but it's without a doubt moving. (C.C.)
Kero Kero Bonito – Time 'n' Place
I didn't know I needed Kero Kero Bonito in my life until I saw them tour for Time 'n' Place. While everyone in the venue screamed the songs word-for-word, I just stood there, awestruck and taking everything in for the first time. It's impossible not to smile at lead singer Sarah Bonito's cheery vocals and feel energized by Gus Lobban's and Jamie Bulled's instrumentation (once you wrap your head around everything going on).
Time 'n' Place notably strays away from the hyperactive bubblegum pop that made Kero Kero Bonito's earlier works so striking. Instead, Kero Kero Bonito churns out celestial melodies with occasional touches of industrial distortions (see: "Only Acting" and "If I'd Known"). The album tackles themes of growing up and self-awareness, fitting its more grounded song structures; however, Kero Kero Bonito's playful optimism lives on through lighthearted tones and Bonito's vocals. The band pulls off the duality well, keeping things stimulating as they take a deep dive into their psyches. (C.C.)
Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today
When a band changes up its sound a bit, sometimes all you hear is the cognitive dissonance of your own opinions: "Will I like this or will I put on that one album that never gets old?" Death Cab for Cutie definitely throws in new sounds in Thank You For Today, but the indie rock luminaries implement them in a way that ends up being so uniquely Death Cab. "I Dreamt We Spoke Again," for example, immediately starts the album on a different note. It puts lead vocalist-guitarist Ben Gibbard's voice through a vocoder and against this funk-meets-indie rhythm. However, the dangling dissonant chords and moody interludes bring the song together and bring out that classic Death Cab nuance.
The album is also rich in imagery, with the gloom of "Summer Years" and "Your Hurricane," the sepia-toned nostalgia of "Autumn Love" and the whimsical iridescence of "Northern Lights." With every note carefully thought out, Thank You For Today is the band minding its past, while also looking forward. (C.C.)
CHVRCHES – Love Is Dead
Three years after its last release, CHVRCHES made a highly anticipated return with Love Is Dead. It trades in the trio's originally gritty, firework of synths for a glossier finish. Still, the album carries the celestial energy that made CHVRCHES such a magnetic force to begin with. "Get Out" and "Deliverance" take form as empowering anthems, made especially striking by Lauren Mayberry's headstrong vocals against hard-hitting instrumentations from Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. Shifting to whimsical synthscapes, "Graffiti" and "Never Say Die" get in touch with nostalgia, while songs like "Grave," "Miracle" and "Wonderland" explore politics and faith. Love is Dead finds the equilibrium between musical breadth and depth, a spellbinding experience you can't help but revisit. (C.C.)
Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises
At the beginning of 2018, the best way to listen to Pale Waves online was via live audio rips on YouTube. The Manchester quartet had maybe two or three singles on Spotify, so its debut LP, My Mind Makes Noises, came highly anticipated.
The group's sound combines eighties gothic rock and contemporary indie pop, while its lyrics delve into anxieties and adventures all twenty-somethings can relate to. It's a blend that gives the album a coming-of-age thrill that makes it fun to revisit, while keeping excited to see how the band will grow. (C.C.)
More essential 2018 releases to listen to:
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Aphex Twin – Collapse EP
Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands Of Love
Tim Hecker – Konoyo
serpentwithfeet - soil
Lotic – Power
Objekt – Cocoon Crush
(Words by Chloe Catajan and Maxime Vers)