As the year draws to a close, it goes without saying that 2018 had no shortage of amazing music. The music headlines this year were everything from celebratory (Janelle Monae, Kacey Musgraves) to unforgivable (Kanye, 6ix9ine). On top of that, 2018 saw tons of A-list musicians releasing medicore albums (Beyonce, Kanye, Kendrick, Drake, Justin Timberlake, etc). However, even when the big leagues come up short, there are new artists to fall in love with. 2018 brought us great new musicians making bold choices and experimenting with genres in ways that feel like giant leaps forward in the modern music landscape. Instead of ranking my favourite albums in a hierarchy, I have included my 25 favourite albums in alphabetical order below for your consideration. Who did I miss? Do you agree with these picks?
The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
The 1975 promoted this album as this generation’s OK Computer. While some called the comparison sacrilege and others scoffed at these rambunctious Brits for trying to be something they are not, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is an essential release that reflects on our modern age of global anxiety and how the Internet has influenced our interactions with information. The album jumps around genre-wise, including Joy Division tributes (“Give Yourself A Try”), trop-pop (“TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”), UK Garage (“Petrichor”), jazz (“Mine”), Soundcloud rap (“I Like America & America Likes Me”), and a Britpop anthem (“I Always Wanna Die [Sometimes]”). It may seem like a large task to bring all these genres and moods together in an hour, but The 1975 handle the task with ease to give us one of the year’s most talked-about releases and their best output to date.
BEST LYRICS: “There’s no point in buying concrete shoes / I’ll refuse / And I always wanna die, sometimes” (“I Always Wanna Die [Sometimes]”)
Against All Logic — 2012–2017
Nicolas Jaar is one of the best producers of the decade and he almost managed to release an album under his “Against All Logic” alias without anyone knowing. In his “off year”, Jaar helped write The Weeknd’s “Call Out My Name” and released this compilation album of sample-heavy house jams that have endless replayability. 2012–2017 is a slick collection that serves the best of the genre with a special Jaar touch. Sampling artists like The Delfonics to Kanye West, Nicolas Jaar connects decades of musical innovation under one roof and produces the year’s best dance record.
BEST LYRICS: “ The foundations / Of the world / Are being broken” (“This Old House Is All I Have”)
Amen Dunes — Freedom
Amen Dunes has been an underdog for years. 2014’s Love was a quiet album that turned listeners onto Amen Dunes but 2018’s Freedom was the start of something big. Freedom is an exercise in crafting killer indie rock songs with Damon McMahon’s distinct voice dominating every track. His shaky singing traverses the aural plane in a way that seems like autopilot to McMahon. His effortless execution makes Freedom an important landmark in modern indie rock. From the groovy lead single “Blue Rose” to the chugging, harmonica-filled “Skipping School”, Freedom is a remedy for any ailment.
BEST LYRICS: “Sitting on the pier, sipping on my beer / I come upon a vision when Mary comes to me / Silver golden waves and chills that keep me clear / You all recall my name but don’t mean a thing to me” (“Miki Dora”)
Amnesia Scanner — Another Life
What would happen if you typed lyrics into a voice generator and sprinkled some filters and distortion on it? You might end up with Amnesia Scanner’s twisted sound. The mysterious German duo make up for their reclusive energy with club music from hell that takes pop sensibilities and turns them into the soundtrack for a nightmare you don’t want to wake up from. Their chaos has been channeled into a monumental work of avant-EDM, systematically created to feel unlike anything you’ve heard before. Another Life is the most outlandish release on my list and I feel as though this album has succeeded in developing a new approach to how we use technology to create music. This is the music of the future and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
BEST LYRICS: “ Last year / What a KO / What a complete KO / Last year / Was a complete change of character” (“AS Unlinear”)
Beach House — 7
Beach House have been recognized as some of the leading musicians in the indie rock scene since the late 2000s. More than a decade later, they continue to evolve their sound to fantastic new places and their seventh studio album might be their most consistently brilliant work. 7 feels like a sharp left turn for Beach House, trading in the soft sounds of Teen Dream and the arpeggiated synths of Bloom for full-bodied drums and roaring, shoegazey guitars. Each song plays into the next in a gorgeous sequence that feels as if you’re floating through the sky at dusk and watching the horizon turn from day to night in real time. 7 captures a magical moment and holds you tight for 47 minutes so you can experience it in all its majesty.
BEST LYRICS: “Get dressed to undress / Depressed to impress / All night long” (“Girl of the Year”)
Cardi B — Invasion of Privacy
Cardi B is 2018’s biggest success story. It was only late last year that Cardi debuted “Bodak Yellow” before it shot to the top of the charts. Cardi B seemed to be a flash in the pan, but she proved everyone wrong. Invasion of Privacy was the start of a domino effect to international success and Grammy nominations and the album has a lot to say. Cardi B schools you from the start, proving that she’s a force to be reckoned with on the opener “Get Up 10”. Her presence as a confident, articulate rapper makes her one of the best new talents and her sound doesn’t fit nicely into one box. Her ability to play the hardcore rapper (“Bickenhead”) or the pop sensation (“Thru Your Phone”) helps elevate Invasion of Privacy as an album with substance. Cardi B’s no-filter attitude, with raunchy lyrics only matched by the extremely talented CupcakKe, has proven to be exactly what 2018 needed to shake up the radio charts.
BEST LYRICS: “They said by now that I’ll be finished, hard to tell (I can tell) / My little 15 minutes lasting long as hell, huh?” (“I Do”)
Deafheaven — Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
No one seems to be able to decide how to categorize Deafheaven. They’re too metal for the indie kids and too indie for the metal kids so where can they go? Deafheaven continue to stay in their own lane, carving out their unique sound to the fullest potential on their fourth album. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love takes something from each of their past releases and improves upon the sound for their best work yet. The iconic screeching vocals of George Clarke stay in tact, yet there is more of a focus to craft a less harsh vocal delivery on tracks like “Near” and “Night People”, the latter of them being complimented by Chelsea Wolfe’s ghostly voice. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a whirlwind of metal and post-rock, fueled by devastating emotion and dripping in technical excellence.
BEST LYRICS: “I’m reluctant to stay sad / Life beyond is a field /A field of flowers” (“Honeycomb”)
Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs
This album is the longest 24 minutes ever and that’s in no way a bad thing. Earl Sweatshirt is rap’s King Midas, turning everything into gold no matter how inaccessible it sounds on first listen. Some Rap Songs is an album that sounded like madness when I first heard it. I couldn’t understand what I was listening to but I knew something important was happening. Earl has come a long way since his days in Odd Future but now as the rapper and the producer of the majority of Some Rap Songs, his talent knows no bounds. Some Rap Songs could be considered the successor to J Dilla’s Donuts, taking short ideas and untangling them in ways that leave you hungry for more. The flawless use of samples and the mesmerizing cadence in Earl’s voice makes it feel like he’s saying everything to you with his arm around your shoulder and you’re both a few drinks deep.
BEST LYRICS: “I’m a man, I’m just saying that I stayed imperfect / Earl is not my name, the world is my domain, kid” (“Veins”)
Foxing — Nearer My God
Foxing have the making of stadium rockers with their irresistible hooks and powerful chords. Their third and most accessible release has given the band some room to grow out of their emo origins to become a strange blend of Hail to the Thief era Radiohead and Only By the Night era Kings of Leon. Their commanding presence, intimate storytelling, and vivid lyrics come together as one of 2018’s great alternative albums. Hearing Nearer My God makes me think this band could get an entire arena singing “You are not in loooOoOoOoOoove” (“Heartbeats”) in the same way Coldplay or Arcade Fire can with their songs. Nearer My God is a great step forward for the band and can be considered the one of the year’s most adventurous and melancholic rock records.
BEST LYRICS: “Ashing cigarettes on gravestones / Pin photographs on cork boards / Unfollowing my dead friends / Someone’s gonna love me / Oh, do you want me? / Do you want me at all?” (“Nearer My God”)
Fucked Up — Dose Your Dreams
Toronto legends Fucked Up have outdone themselves with this one. The band has always been known to deliver powerful punk outings for more than a decade but Dose Your Dreams is the ultimate expression of flexing. Every moment; every word spoken, sung, or screamed; every song feels necessary in this nearly 90-minute album. Fucked Up have created a masterpiece in genre-bending, breaking the rules of what it means to make a punk record in 2018. Some songs still retain the same nervous energy of the band’s early days (“Accelerate”) and others venture into territories of disco (“Dose Your Dreams”) and indie pop (“Love Is An Island In the Sea”). Regardless of its length, Dose Your Dreams unravels like a good movie, keeping you hooked from the start and tossing in sonic plot twists every so often to surprise and please you.
BEST LYRICS: “Tomorrow lives inside your dreams / When you remember how to feel / Once I had a dream you see / But things aren’t always what they seem” (“Joy Stops Time”)
Hop Along — Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Frances Quinlan has one of the best voices in indie rock. Her indescribable singing style is the band’s defining feature, proudly orchestrating some of the genre’s catchiest lyrics and earworm melodies. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is Hop Along’s third and most fleshed out album, adding to the angsty ideas of their debut and the infectious writing of Painted Shut. This album feels like lightning in a bottle with its unmistakable energy, ready to fill each listener with its glowing electricity. Songs themes range from biblical (“Not Abel”) to personal (“Look of Love”) and each story is narrated by Quinlan’s quirky, devastating vocal performance.
BEST LYRICS: “How simple my heart can be / Frightens me” (“How Simple”)
Janelle Monae — Dirty Computer
If Janelle Monae is the reincarnation of Prince, I wouldn’t be surprised. The Q.U.E.E.N. of cool has created another world of sci-fi thoughts that feels a little more human than her previous albums. Dirty Computer is less of a cautionary tale and more of a celebration. Janelle Monae came out as pansexual this year and the album can be seen as a queer expression of love and acceptance while trying to enjoy life while the world falls apart. The album spans from full-out Prince tributes (“Make Me Feel”), the return of Monae’s rap persona (“Django Jane”), sex-positive grooves (“Take A Byte”), and a vaginal anthem for the ages (“Pynk”). Janelle Monae continues to improve her musical craft with Dirty Computer, even when she’s busy winning Oscars and being one of the coolest human beings on the planet.
BEST LYRICS: “ Everything is sex / Except sex, which is power / You know power is just sex / Now ask yourself who’s screwing you” (“Screwed”)
Jpegmafia — Veteran
If you can successfully rap over ODB’s insane interlude from “Goin’ Down”, you deserve all the praise. Jpegmafia broke out this year with one of the weirdest hip-hop albums and has cracked the code on how to be the leading voice for left-wing listeners. His no-BS attacks on politicians, celebrities, and his fans give Jpegmafia a sophisticated edge over the competition. With some of the year’s most memorable beats (“Baby I’m Bleeding”, “Rainbow Six”) and bars that are both progressive and oppressive, Veteran is the rap album 2018 needs.
BEST LYRICS: “AR built like Lena Dunham / When I shoot, I don’t miss” (“Real Nega”)
Kacey Musgraves — Golden Hour
Kacey Musgraves has matured from country darling to one of the year’s defining musicians. Golden Hour is an immaculate collection of music that stirs country, pop, disco, and folk into a nourishing bowl and serves it to you piping hot to eat. At times, Golden Hour can feel like that friend you can reach out to when you need some affirmations or that friend that convinces you to go to one more bar before the night is over. Its shining personality, amplified by Musgraves’ homespun talent, makes it an album that never gets tiresome. Each track, mixed to perfection, offers a new reflection of Musgraves’ view of the world and it deserves a warm welcome. Whether she masters the treacherous pop-country waters (“High Horse”) or opens her heart to the world (“Mother”, “Happy & Sad”), Kacey Musgraves never loses her footing and should be considered one of 2018’s best musicians.
BEST LYRICS: “Old soul, waiting my turn / I know a few things, but I still got a lot to learn / So I’m alright with a slow burn” (“Slow Burn”)
Low — Double Negative
25 years into their career, Low decided to switch things up. Known in the 90s as one of the prominent slowcore groups, Low broke the mold and gave us a darker, more experimental composition. Double Negative is a confounding artistic statement, muddled in distortion, static, and strange vocal experimentation. Yet, even though the band is so far into their career, it feels like they are at a creative peak and still willing to take risks in the name of art. Double Negative sways between ambient and slowcore, demanding repeat listens in the dead of night. This album relishes in an atmosphere that looms like a dark cloud and cradles you with a strange sense of security. Its sound feels like a refraction of what is going on in the world as it processes all the turmoil into a haunting album that is sure to leave an impact on you.
BEST LYRICS: “ This evil spirit, man, it’s bringing me down / It tells me not to do the things that I should / It graduated to the back of the bus / They say you let it in when you took the drugs” (“Disarray”)
Lucy Dacus — Historian
Lucy Dacus shoots straight for the heart and never misses. Her honest lyrics that tend to focus on falling in and out of love stand above other more generic artists who tend to gloss over details. Dacus illustrates her side of things with confidence and poise, effortlessly marrying heavy rock rhythms and raw lyricism. Historian is filled with little moments that punch you in the gut unexpectedly, giving the listener a rollercoaster of highs and lows with no clear time to let their guard down. Historian brings out Dacus’ calculated methods of songwriting, building each song like a tower of blocks before violently knocking it down in the end.
BEST LYRICS: “You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift / And I’ll never see you again if I can help it / In five years I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers” (“Night Shift”)
Mitski — Be The Cowboy
Be The Cowboy is such a great phrase and of course Mitski sells it with conviction on her new album. Mitski has always been known for her creative song structures, relatable lyrics, and unique persona as one of indie rock’s new celebrities. Be The Cowboy feels like a set of vignettes with each song bringing in a new concept or character to the overall “cowboy” aesthetic. What does it mean to be the cowboy and how does Mitski personify that in the POVs she embodies? Though the songs are detached in subject matter, they are united by Mitski’s powerful narration, giving the listener an album full of short bursts that add up to what it truly means to be the hero of your own story.
BEST LYRICS: “‘Cause nobody butters me up like you, and / Nobody fucks me like me” (“Lonesome Love”)
Noname — Room 25
Noname is one of Chicago’s brightest and bubbliest rappers who made her debut two years ago with the earth-shattering Telefone. While fans were eager to see how Noname would follow her first release, she took her time to perfect her craft and touch up all the rough edges for what might be the best rap album of 2018. Room 25 is an introspective album with a lot of confessions that make listeners feel as if they’re sitting in the therapist’s seat. Noname proves that she is unafraid to look within to deliver thoughtful raps. With brilliant alliteration, unique flows, and a selection of instrumentals that would make D’Angelo jealous, Room 25 is a behemoth wrapped up inside one woman’s mind and we have the honour of getting to peek inside.
BEST LYRICS: “ My pussy teachin ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism / In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus / And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?” (“Self”)
Oneohtrix Point Never — Age Of
Daniel Lopatin has already been classified as a musical genius, especially after inventing Vapourwave as Chuck Person in 2010, writing an award-winning score for 2017’s Good Time, and releasing futuristic electronic music as Oneohtrix Point Never. Now, after all this, Lopatin continues to build his flawless resume with a new OPN album that can only be described as medieval-meets-folk in space. Age Of is the first album to feature Lopatin singing prominently and songs like “Babylon” and “The Station” benefit from his vocoder-soaked delivery. With help from boundary pushing artists like Prurient, Anohni, and Kelsey Lu, Age Of is a fascinating chapter that creates sonic universes rather than songs. Every moment feels like the world is ending or a new world is being formed on Age Of and it should not be ignored.
BEST LYRICS: “ It must be an infestation / Something that I can’t control / It’s an open invitation / To try to find the bottom of a bottomless hole” (“The Station”)
ROSALIA — El Mal Querer
I may not know what she’s saying, but I love Rosalia. The Spanish-speaking sensation has started to get massive critical attention with her second album, El Mal Querer. Some have likened her to being the female James Blake with unusual song structures, playful vocal manipulation, and a voice that could silence any crowd. Rosalia does not use her voice as a weapon. Instead, it is a tool to build her identity and reveal elaborate stories with stark imagery. Everything on El Mal Querer sounds crisp and it takes several listens to notice all the little voices and effects placed carefully throughout. Rosalia has a bright future as a pop star and El Mal Querer is a great introduction to her artistic capabilities.
BEST LYRICS: “Pienso en tu mirá’, tu mirá clavá’ es una bala en el pecho” (“PIENSO EN TU MIRA [Cap.3: Celos]”)
Skee Mask — Compro
Compro puts you in a trance right away. As one of the year’s standout instrumental albums, Compro brings fast-paced drum patterns, woozy synths, and commanding bass to keep you locked in the groove. Similar to the super-charged energy of early Goldie and Photek, Skee Mask carries the torch into the 21st century with an album full of personality without any words. Every song gradually takes control of your focus and allows you to explore all the wondrous sounds that are thrown into the mix. Headphones are essential for this kind of album.
SOPHIE — Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
She finally did it, folks. After years of releasing singles here and there, SOPHIE brought her debut album into the world in a big way. Drawing on the maximalist sounds of her early singles and adding new layers of experimental practice, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides makes you want to shout from the rooftops. Like Dirty Computer, SOPHIE’s album is a celebration of queer identity with each song exploring different facets of queer existence like the hypersexual “Ponyboy”, the dysmorphia-coded “Pretending”, and the club banger “Immaterial”. The album feels as if SOPHIE is coming to terms with her queer identity in real-time and we get to take that journey with her from admitting that it’s okay to cry to bravely venturing out into a whole new world.
BEST LYRICS: “My face is the front of shop / My face is the real shop front / My shop is the face I front / I’m real when I shop my face” (“Faceshopping”)
Tim Hecker — Konoyo
Tim Hecker knows how to conjure a mood in his music. His soundtrack-like works are pieces that cannot be pinned down into one type of music. His leaps between different styles make him one of the greats and Konoyo joins the ranks among Hecker’s other brilliant compositions. Konoyo gives off a more sinister sound than some of Hecker’s previous work. Picking up where 2013’s Virgins left off, Konoyo dials up the ominous sounds for an experience unlike any other album this year. Every song creates its own sound until they all collapse in on themselves in the album’s final track “Across to Anoyo”. Tim Hecker has proven once again that he is one of the defining ambient musicians and that his work should be recognized.
The Voidz — Virtue
Is it weird to say that I like this album more than all of The Strokes’ albums? Julian Casablancas has found a way to put his feverish creativity to work with The Voidz second album. After a stunning debut, the follow-up to Tyranny is an even better display of what this band has to offer. Casablancas and crew take Virtue to uncharted pop territory, stretching the definition of what is allowed in a catchy rock tune. The biggest standout, “QYURRYUS”, is enough to show that The Voidz don’t care about conventional songwriting techniques and they are doing whatever they damn well please in order to create something that’ll get stuck in your head for months.
BEST LYRICS: “It’s my life and I can’t delete it / Is that the life I lead? / All these surreal things and sudden decisions / Just wanna waste my time with you” (“Leave It In My Dreams”)
Yves Tumor — Safe in the Hands of Love
Yves Tumor’s newest release is a lot to take in. Like a lot of other music this year, it does not stick to a single genre and play it safe. Safe In the Hands of Love showcases Tumor’s lyricism and ability to combine so many different types of sounds into one album and not have it sound totally out of place. The most striking thing about the album is the lyrics and how their delivery give them a sing-a-long quality with Tumor’s strong annunciation. Part experimental, part R&B, part pop, and part noise, Safe In the Hands of Love is an album that perfects each genre and makes it seem as if it were a greatest hits compilation.
BEST LYRICS: “Sister, mother, brother, father / Have you, have you looked outside? / I’m scared for my life / They don’t trust us / I’m not part of the killing spree / A symptom, born loser, statistic” (“Noid”)