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10 Best Albums of 2018 So Far
With deaths and feuds and seismic shifts at the highest reaches of pop, the world of music has been dramatic in 2018. It’s a time of transition, when new faces and styles have emerged across genres. Young indie artists are showing the strengths of the basics in guitar music. Soundcloud rappers have introduced a new era of intimate, anxious hip-hop. And the biggest stars in the world are addressing their personal family struggles openly through music. The best albums of 2018 represent a time in flux within the industry, within culture, and beyond to our uncertain social-political climate.
Father John Misty: God’s Favorite Customer
More often than not, Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty persona can be, well, abrasive. During the promotion of his last album, Pure Comedy, he’d do things like tell the New York Times, “When the ledgers of history are drawn up, I’ll be on the side of the smokers and the masturbators. Those are my people.” It became more about the character, more about the preachy concept albums than the songwriting itself. It was exhausting. But this year, he quietly released God’s Favorite Customer—a more focused, mature, and nuanced collection of songs.
Tierra Whack: Whack World
The Philadelphia singer and rapper’s phenomenal “visual auditory project” called Whack World is 15 tracks, 15 minutes long, and is available as a single music video. Each track, as you likely guessed, is exactly one minute, with the album playing out like a shuffle of glorious hooks that end entirely too soon. I’ve often said that a great short song leaves you satisfied but wanting more—and frustratingly enough, Whack World does that with every single song. There are hooks that would make Frank Ocean jealous and raps that have actually made A$AP Rocky compare her to Kendrick. To some, it is absolutely an infuriating and confusing concept—but that’s exactly what good art should do. Most importantly, though, this is a tease of incredible things to come from Tierra Whack.
Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
If you played someone “High Horse,” it might take a few guesses before they identified it as a country song. That four-to-the-floor beat with the funky, Nile Rodgers guitar, that popping bass—none of these are elements of country that should be on a hit from one of the genre’s brightest stars. But the elements are all there: the middle-American lyrical imagery and references, the light slide guitar solo, the banjo, the background acoustic strings. Like Golden Hour as a whole, it’s like a winking scrambling of genres that creates a sound entirely Musgraves’s own. Some often compare her to Taylor Swift as a country artist with major crossover potential. But less a brand than her uber-famous counterpart, Musgraves has more in common with the likes of Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton, who are crossing over based on musical ability alone.
Soccer Mommy: Clean
Effortless, relatable, and delightfully honest, Soccer Mommy can make our deepest self-doubts seem so much more universal. Take “Cool,” for example, a song of insecurity and obsession that transcends the teen drama exterior. In a way, it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in silently judging and coveting someone’s life. Sophie Allison, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter, twists the idea of what is cool to something that’s unafraid of being vulnerable and confused. In an era of carefully curated social media personas, Allison’s transparency gives hope to a new generation of indie rockers.
Saba: Care For Me
Hip-hop has reached an emotional place in 2018. Rappers are unafraid of sharing their feelings openly; anxiety has become just as prominent a topic as money and fashion in the genre. But while most of these rappers are musically exploring the same space as the likes of Post Malone and the late XXXTentacion, Saba has found his own voice driven by jazz-leaning production. He touches on everything from murder in his community to the anxieties of social media. On Logout, Saba raps: “If you press logout, you get forgotten / What’s a post, but a reminder just how boring our lives ar-ar-ar-are / Look at how much fun I’m havin’ / Ain’t’ no beauty in the absence, of broadcastin’ to your followers.” In hindsight, that seems like such an insightful statement given what Chicago’s most prominent rapper did in late April. Alongside Chance the Rapper, it’s good to know that a new generation of artists from Chicago gets it.
Kali Uchis: Isolation
Since the mid-2010s, Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis has been a familiar voice alongside the likes of Tyler, the Creator, Snoop Dogg, Miguel, and Snoop Dogg. She began 2018 with “After the Storm,” a silky R&B jam, assisted by Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins. That paved the way for her debut full-length, which wonderfully blended indie rock, reggaetón, funk, R&B, and hip-hop into a powerful new force in pop music. It represents a worldly sampling of North and South American tastes with her astute ear for unexpected melodies. There, it occupies a space all of its own, something equally familiar and timeless while also groundbreaking and fascinating.
Snail Mail: Lush
On her Matador debut, Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan is as intimate and as wise as her early bedroom recordings but with the polish that a record label can provide. The band’s 18-year-old frontwoman has been called a music prodigy for her masterful grasp of composition and hooks. In real time, she seems to be capturing teenage frustration and angst, which she’s able to write about in a universal way. It’s wise beyond its years both in terms of self-aware analysis and song construction. Listening to this in 2018 is a refreshing reminder of the power and simplicity of a well written guitar rock. Snail Mail proves the basics aren’t dead—they’re absolutely thriving and necessary.
Pusha T: Daytona
The first of five albums from Kanye West this summer, everything was working against Pusha T when Daytona dropped. West had turned the narrative against him, and the world was looking at whatever the rapper did next with an unusually critical ear. Yet, Daytona was good enough to overcome the bad press based on quality alone. Somehow, Pusha was able to separate himself from West’s politics even on an album that includes some of Ye’s best beats in years. With his brutal and laser-focused flow, Pusha’s Daytona started the beef of the decade with Drake, dismantled the mumble rap trend, and supplanted his place in hip-hop culture with air-tight rhetoric.
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
Long before her first album—long before her music career—Cardi B was already a star. She’s a woman with such a massive personality that it must be shared with the world. It was bound to happen eventually, and on Invasion of Privacy, Cardi proves the massive success of “Bodak Yellow” was no fluke. It combines talent from some of the biggest emerging names in the game, while once again providing multiple options for song of the summer. It spits confidence and a fully realized image. It opens with an emotional biography of her origins dancing in New York, where she danced and developed her massive Instagram following. And it closes with a powerful SZA-assisted call to action: “Here’s a word to my ladies / Don’t you give these niggas none (give ’em none) / If they can’t make you richer, they can’t make you come.”
Beyoncé / Jay-Z: Everything Is Love
Everything Is Love, Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s first full joint album as a couple, is a joyous and enlightened closing statement that acts as a finale to the greatest trilogy in modern music. It’s also the conclusion to the greatest story and trilogy in modern pop music. Following Lemonade and 4:44, Everything Is Love is a happy ending in a time when it feels like there are none. And while their personal drama is the main tabloid hook, the couple manages to elevate that conversation to a direct-from-the-source analysis of betrayal, love, struggle, and the challenges of being black superstars and business moguls in America. The unity of the Carters is clear musically, too. This isn’t an album of two competing egos and superstar artists. Rather, Everything Is Love is a union of both Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s greatness.