My Top 20 Albums of 2018
2018 was the best year in music that I’ve experienced so far. So many incredible artists released so many fantastic albums and I made it my goal to listen to as many of them as possible. Obviously, I couldn’t listen to all of them but I did my best. Originally this was meant to be a top ten list but there were just too many projects that I feel need to be given credit to.
Although this is the lowest rated album on my list that is in no way connected to its quality. IAMDDB is an R&B Soul artist from Manchester, recommended to me by my 11-year-old sister. The instrumentals on Flightmode are relatively simple but what really makes this album stand out is IAMDDB’s silky and sassy vocals and lyricism. Paired with the stuttering drum machine beats and the occasional bouncy synth line, this album is incredibly laid back and incredibly smooth. The standout song for me is Drippy as it probably best represents the albums aesthetic as a whole.
Throughout the year I kept seeing the album cover for Lush and kept wondering what this album was about and why it was getting so much praise. Turns out the album belonged to Maryland band Snail Mail and it was their first studio effort. And am I glad I listened to it. This breed of intimate and personal Indie Rock music is exactly the right kind of mopey teenager music that I thrive on during my more depressed evenings. In a similar vein to the band Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail’s musical sound matches perfectly with the lead singer’s (Lindsey Jordan). Her droney and elongated singing style never feels boring or comes across as annoying, instead, you can’t help but get whisked away in the emotion of the music.
I found The Internet last year through Gorillaz as they were set to open for them during their world tour. Intrigued as to what they sounded like I looked on to their Spotify page and was pleasantly surprised that they had just released a new album. If I had to pick two areas of The Internet that I enjoy the most it would have to be the vocals and the bass guitar. The lead singer Syd’s vocals are so relaxed and in a way so pure that listening to her sing s like listening to a lullaby. As for the bass, bassist Patrick Paige does an outstanding job. Songs like It Gets Better With Time and especially Look What You Started would not be the same without the pulsing bassline in the background.
In 2016, Britain was hit with the news that the public had voted to leave the European Union. Whilst many artists expressed their discomfort with this, perhaps one of the most vocal was Damon Albarn. So when he announced that his supergroup The Good, The Bad and The Queen would be returning after an 11-year break with a concept album based around Brexit, I could not wait. What I was greeted with was an album that is so sonically consistent that it could almost be one whole song (and I mean that in a good way). The whole album feels like you’re walking through a theme park dedicated to Britain and what it used to be and what it might become. The lyrics to this project are also some of the most insightful and interesting that Albarn has ever written. You can hear the disdain and betrayal that Damon feels emanate throughout each track, most notably on Lady Boston (which features a hauntingly beautiful all-man choir) and also on Ribbons.
Jessie Reyez was recommended to me by a friend ages ago and I either forgot to listen to her or just ignored my friend. Then towards the end of the year, a separate friend suggested her. Finally, I listened to her 2018 project Being Human In Public and absolutely fell in love with her. Similarly to IAMDDB, the instrumentation that accompanies Reyez is not especially complicated but her voice carries her music so well it doesn’t matter. However Reyez’ voice holds this kind of snarling sass that -whilst present in IAMDDB- is not felt as much in other R&B artists vocals. She also has this domineering tone and style to her lyrics that makes her music so powerful. Basically amounting to making me thinking “fuck you” to everyone I see when listening to her. But the one outlier to that trend on this album is the song Sola, which is sung entirely in Spanish and is one of the most precious songs I’ve ever heard and makes me very excited to see if she continues this intimate side in future projects.
Rejie Snow was another artist recommended to me by a friend and once again I was pleasantly surprised by how good he was. Dear Annie is another incredibly chill album from last year which combines the sound of the music and the sound of the artists voice perfectly. The whole album has this mellow, almost dreamlike air to it and Rejie’s voice blends with the music perfectly. His voice has this basey drone to it that soothes the listener as the album goes on, not to mention the fact that Snow can go between singing and rapping with ease without ever losing that smoothness to his voice. I’d probably say Egyptian Luver, Room 27 and Bye Polar are my favourites tracks on this album.
I’ll admit that this album upon my first listening didn’t exactly leave that great of an impression on me. Mitski was an artist who I have loved for a long time now and every project I listened to had me hooked on it immediately. But Be The Cowboy didn’t seem to have the same grasp on me that other projects did. Then I listened to it again. And again. And now it firmly deserves its place on this list. Mitski is as introspective and personal as she has ever been on this album. Whilst I still love the teenage angst that she uses to full effect on her other projects, Be The Cowboy shows that in the time between this and Puberty 2, Mitski has really matured in her songwriting. As well as her lyrics, Mitski seems to have improved in her singing as well. There are plenty of moments on this album that utterly break my heart to listen to. Like the emotional breakdown on the second half of Geyser or the entirety of Washing Machine Heart. And of cause, the music is varied and interesting to listen to. Can’t wait to see where he goes from here.
Next, we have another recommendation from my sister. Jorja Smiths first album Lost and Found shows that she is destined to have an incredibly successful future. The power she can hold in her voice whilst belting out ballads is matched only by the intimacy that she coveys on the quieter tracks. The difference between the chorus on Teenage Fantasy or the outburst on Tomorrow compared to songs like Goodbyes or February 3rd probably show this best. (Also, speaking of Teenage Fantasy, as someone who went through their first breakup last year, I felt this song). Finally, Jorja shows on the song Lifeboats that she could easily make the shift to a more Rap based style of music, it will be interesting to see where she goes from here.
I have no idea why I like this album so much. Me from a year ago would have hated this kind of music. I would’ve thought it was “just a load of noise”. But there’s something addictive about this album. It drills into your ears and latches onto your brain until you learn to love it. There’s no question that Peggy is a talented rapper, just listen to his flow on songs like Baby I’m Bleeding for a little taste of that, but it’s really the production on this album that makes it stand out. Reall Nega uses the vocal warm-up of Ol’ Dirty Bastard to make a melody, Thug Tear’s samples JPEG clicking a pen repeatedly in the intro and every song has a little detail or sample that keeps the song interesting. The standout song though is definitely Baby I’m Bleeding. The beginning is so sonically confusing and then when Peggy comes in full throttle with an attitude-filled verse, only to quieten down and then bring it back in full force. It’s actually maddening (in a good way)
I found Pusha through Gorillaz on their 2017 album Humanz. He was probably one of the last artists I was interested in that I actually then went on to research into and by the time I did his new album Daytona was out. What a time to listen to Push. This is widely heralded by many critics as his best album and I can see why. Every song on this album is class. There is no filler. If You Know You Know is catchy as hell, Hard Piano is one of the most emotionally compelling tracks I heard last year and The Games We Play is probably one of my favourite songs not only of last year but of all time. Pusha’s rhyming on that track is so fluid and the guitar loop that plays throughout it makes it. But obviously, you can’t talk about Daytona without talking about Infrared. This song reignited the beef between Drake and Pusha, which then lead to a response from Drake and then the first diss track that I’ve ever cared about, The Story of Adidon. Hip Hop critics won’t hold this beef as the best, but Pusha T vs Drake was my first and I have Daytona to thank for that.
Now for something completely different from anything on this list. In fact something completely different from anything I’ve ever heard before. Superorganism is a band made up out of people from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and -perhaps most exotic of all- Burnley. They make music that is unlike anything else. They sample anything and everything from a cash register to bubbles being blown in a glass of water to camera flashes and pair them with pulsing bass guitars, synths and shredding electric guitars. It honestly shouldn’t work but it does. The lead singer Orino also has an incredibly monotone voice that practically holds no emotion which contrasts with the vibrantness of the instrumentation perfectly. This works so well because the lyrics of many of the songs detail the ways that despite the technology we have and the colourfulness of our world (in the band’s own words) “everybody just wants to be famous” and in actuality, we’re all quite normal. The contrast between Orino and the music reflects this perfectly. And all of this was done on their first album! Can’t wait to see what happens with Superorganism going forward.
Kali Uchis was another artist found through Humanz and despite the fact I, researched her sooner than most artists on that album, she hadn’t actually released an album yet. Come 2018 her first full-length project was released and I immediately fell in love with her. On the first listening, I recognised that the album was incredibly funky, fun and featured some very sexy singing from Kali. Then the breakup happened and upon listening again I realised that this album is actually quite a cautious and defiant call out against someone that might wrong you or will wrong you. The song Dead To Me went from a fun song full of energy to a way to a song that was unapologetically a massive “fuck you” to an ex. The fact that I enjoyed this album both in and out of a relationship is a testament to how well Uchis voices her emotions, they never come across as disingenuine or sappy. She retains a level of sexy sass throughout it all and makes the album a pleasure to listen to.
The Now Now was a very unexpected arrival for me. Gorillaz had just released their album Humanz in 2017 and anyone who knows Gorillaz knows that expecting a new album within a year of the last is not how Gorillaz works. But because Damon Albarn wanted new music to play on the second leg of their tour, The Now Now was created. And thank god it was. The Now Now is a very small scale album in comparison other Gorillaz projects. The band has a reputation for being a quite high concept with their albums so it was incredibly refreshing to hear the more introspective side to the band that we’ve only gotten in small doses throughout the lifetime of the group. Songs like Kansas, Humility and Fire Flies all have this personal side to them which we very rarely get to hear. The ‘wubby’ baselines and the 70’s aesthetic to the album also manage to stop the album from being too sappy, by keeping the energy of each song consistently bouncy and interesting. But I can’t talk about this album without giving special mention to the song Souk Eye. This is another example of a song that is in my top songs of all time list. It shifts from sadness to serenity to being fully in love with someone and ends on one of the most sombre and depressing outros I’ve ever heard. So good!
Most of you probably have heard at least one song from Denzel Currey in the past. Ultimate was a big meme on Vine for ages and for a long time that was my complete knowledge of Denzel. Then I heard that he had an album out that was competing for album of the year. I listened to it and I have to admit I agree. Whilst the whole concept of an album that goes from the lighter side of life to the grey middle ground and then ends on the dark side could have been done better here, you cannot deny Currey’s talent and the awesomeness of this album. Denzel Currey shouts his lyrics quite a lot on this album and usually, that turns me off from an artist. Lesser rappers shout their lyrics and the words they say are completely lost when they do. But Currey has clearly mastered his craft and every word is clear to hear. The energy on each track is felt 100% through his delivery and cadence throughout the album. One other critique that rappers like Currey tend to get is that their lyrics are usually vapid and mean nothing. Denzel counters this again with some of the best wordplay and creative use of language that I’ve heard from any artist. It’s easy to see why this album is considered an album of the year by so many.
Vince is yet another artist I found through Humanz and was the first one on it that I actively searched out. I loved everything he had done before Humanz and his 2017 album Big Fish Theory was one of my favourites of that year. FM continues the trend of Vince being one of the most talented rappers working today. His flow on each song on this album is so smooth that it hardly seems like he breaths at all for the full duration of this project. As usual, Vince’s cadence is on the features of this album that appeals to me the most. He’s so laid back and carefree and yet the things he raps about and the themes he touches on are anything but. The production on this album also continues the trend that no Staples album sounds the same. The album is staged around being a radio station broadcast, complete with a host, call in guests and feature from other artists like Earl Sweatshirt that are framed as exclusive songs played on the station. This is probably Vince’s most accessible album for new fans and is probably the second favourite thing Vince has done
2017 was the first time I had ever heard any music from Tash Sultana. Her Jungle EP was incredibly intriguing and me interested to listen to her first album which was due to be released the following year. Now that album has come out I can honestly say Sultana is one of the most talented artists I’ve ever had the joy of listening to. On Flow State, she plays 18 different instruments ranging from guitars and the bass to violins and the saxophone. This helps the album out a lot as each song provides a new sound and feel that is unlike any other. Despite her instrumentation definitely being the highlight of the album -the closing track Blackbird perhaps being the best showcase of this- Sultana’s vocal ability should not be underestimated. Songs like Harvest Love and Pink Moon (my personal favourite songs) show how well this girl can actually sing. She has this kind of wailing voice that almost hypnotises you as she sings. The way her voice and the music she plays start to fuse together in a few of the songs is just another reason why I believe she is one of the most promising and talented young artists working today.
It’s not really fair of me to put this album on this list. In fact, I’m surprised it isn’t my number one just because of how unfair this album is on all other albums. It was made for the soundtrack of the most successful films of 2018, was created and put together by a rapper who many consider to be the best rapper working today and it features verses from guests that include the talents of Vince Staples, Jorja Smith, Khalid and basically every artist signed to TDE. The mixture of all these elements coming together is a rap album heavily embedded in a combination of modern rap music and traditional African music. This mixture works so well leading to some of my favourite songs of the year (Opps, Kings Dead and I Am being personal highlights). The fact that Black Panther was such a monumental film that dealt with many controversial issues and thought-provoking ideas means that when this album was in production the artists involved had some create material to inspire their lyric and it’s clear from the content that is on this album that most if not all the features brought their A-game. Even though Kendrick may not have been at his absolute best that we’ve seen him at, it’s still Kendrick Lamar, you know this album has some amount of quality.
I found JID through a “Talented vs Talentless” video on YouTube that went through the rappers working today and sorted them into each category. JID was on the talented side so I decided to check him out and then his new album came out. Honestly, JID may be the most underrated rapper with the most potential I listened to last year. The way he can switch between different speeds, cadences and pitches all within one song is just mind-bogglingly impressive. Take the song Off Deez for example, the song feature J.Cole who is someone who many say is one of the best rappers in the game at the minute, and yet JID still manages to stay on par with if not exceed him in terms of rapping complexity. Even on the weaker songs on the album, JID does everything possible to make the track sound interesting and creative for as long as he can. The song Westbrook did not have me immediately hooked from the beginning (thanks to an average A$AP Ferg hook) and yet as soon as JID comes in I’m instantly enthralled by everything he has to say. The great thing about this album is that I know this is just the beginning for JID. Despite the excellent performance he gives, you can tell JID has nothing else to do now but prove he can keep getting better and better with each album. And I can’t wait to see the next effort he makes.
Arctic Monkeys are without question in my top 5 favourite bands of all time. I fell in love with their Rock n Roll sound from the first time I listened to their albums. So I’m surprised I didn’t have the same reaction to Tranquility Base Hote & Casino that many other fans of the band did and hate the album. But as my and my girlfriend stayed awake after midnight to listen to the album on release (an experience I’ll always hold dear) I couldn’t help but absolutely love this album. I didn’t care that the thrashing guitars and thumping drums were gone because I had this new sound to enjoy. Nick ‘O Malley’s bass guitar is the best it’s ever sounded and he is given a lot more to do on this album, often acting as the driving force of the song, the introduction of new synths and Alex Turner’s piano make this album completely sonically distinct from anything the band has ever made before and Alex Turner absolutely steals the show with his voice. It’s the best I’ve ever heard it be. He may have lost that bad boy drawl he had on AM and the northern hooligan attitude he had on the bands earlier projects, but this swinging, crooning voice he has on this project is just so appealing to listen to. The album also tackles something that the band has never ventured into until now which is an album that deals with a concept, in this case, a hotel on the moon. This allows Turner to provide some of the best lyrics and motifs he’s ever written. In each song, there is at least one line that’ll stick with you for a lifetime and that’s why I love this album so much. (What do you mean you’ve never seen blade runner?)
Brockhampton. Another band recommended by my sister (I owe her a lot for all these artists) and my favourite band of 2018. I was expecting at least 2 albums from these guys last year as in 2017 we got a full trilogy of albums. But in the first half of 2018, one of the members was removed from the band by the group as some allegations about one of the founding members Ameer Van came to light. The bands planned release Puppy was then cancelled. There was silence for some time and then we were greeted by three singles for the band next album. Then that was cancelled. After being in the dark as to what was happening with the next album, Iridescence was announced. It was released. And it was superb. Everyone in the group brought there best performance to at the very least one of every song they appeared on. Merlyn proved himself once again as one more than just a hypeman. Matt brought the same slickness that he had shown he could perform with on the Saturation Trilogy. Dom once again brought some of his most lyrically dense and thought-provoking bars. Bearface stood up and filled the space Ameer had left by adapting his singing style to become more rap-focused whilst still providing us with the same soul-full ballads that we expect from him. And of cause, Kevin gave us more incredibly vulnerable and personal verses that make him one of the most important rappers working today. But Joba really steals the show on this album. You can tell that the Ameer drama really took a toll on him and the anger, frustration and betrayal he must have felt comes through on so many of these tracks (See J’ouvert for proof). What is impressive about this album though goes beyond the music and the performances. The production is on point and each member puts 100% of their effort into their performance. But we all expect that from Brockhampton. What would be telling of whether this group had any longevity in the music industry was whether or not they could follow the incredibly successful Saturation Trilogy, lose an incredibly important member and still produce an amazing album that compares to their previous work. If you ask me they did that and more. Which is what makes it my album of the year,