Musically, 2018 was often a frustrating year, a year defined by dominant but unspectacular singles and solid but overstuffed albums. Yes, Drake, I am looking at you.
But there also some very nice trends, including electric movie music and soundtracks (Black Panther, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), lavish and experimental blockbusters (Travis Scott, the 1975, Ariana Grande), confessional yet empowering female voices (Robyn, Mitski) even a reconsideration of so-dumb-it’s-brilliant pop (Post Malone, Charlie Puth).
Here are our 10 best albums of 2018.
10. Soundtrack, A Star Is Born: Tell me something, girl: Does A Star Is Born’s soundtrack hold up without the film? Yeah, it kind of does. You’ll find no other original album — much less a soundtrack — in this or any other year that scrapes together real rock slobberknockers (Black Eyes, Alibi), dusty country ditties (Maybe It’s Time), blockbuster ballads (Always Remember Us This Way, I’ll Never Love Again) and slinky pop bangers (Heal Me). It’s a credit not only to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but to an all-star list of collaborators (Mark Ronson, Jason Isbell, Lukas Nelson, Diane Warren). Oh, and before you go, turn around, because there’s just one other thing we wanted to get a look at: “HOHHH, OH-OH-OH-OHHHH, OHHH-WHOA, HOH-OH-OH-OH-OHHHHHHH...”
9. Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer: Prince would be proud of his acolyte’s funky statement on stank in the digital age. Its explorations of desire, curiosity and self-acceptance are thrilling, even titillating, without sacrificing Monae’s core honesty. Take a bite, and it’ll make you feel, too.
8. Wet, Still Run: Bedroom indie pop remains a very big mood, to use the parlance of our times, and it didn’t come moodier than on this Brooklyn outfit’s fourth album. Kelly Zutrau’s airy, longing vocals are stay-in-bed intimate on Lately and This Woman Loves You, but they pull you up to dance in the darkness on There’s a Reason and You’re Not Wrong.
7. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy: Does it matter that two of its best tracks Bodak Yellow and Bartier Cardi, came out in 2017? Or that two of Cardi’s biggest features this year, on Bruno Mars’s Finesse and Maroon 5’s Girls Like You, aren’t even on it? Not really, because Cardi’s defiant Bronx yip is the voice of the moment, and when the history books cover this era in pop, this collection deserves to be on it. Oh, and having the song of the summer in I Like It doesn’t hurt.
6. Denzel Curry, TA13OO: The year’s best straight-up rap album came out of South Florida, and brought the region’s strange allure out to the forefront. It’s caustic and confrontational, next-gen SoundCloud rap laced with nostalgia for of all things horrorcore, and delivered with the intense verbosity of Eminem or Kendrick. He’s only 23, but he’s already made the Sunshine State proud.
5. Noname, Room 25: It’s one thing to be socially conscious, rapping about self-worth and stereotypes and society. It’s another to do so in a hypnotic spoken-word style, atop beds of jazz and neo-soul. It’s slam poetry with street toughness, and it makes 27-year-old Chicagoan Fatimah Warner one of the most compelling new women in hip hop.
4. Troye Sivan, Bloom: The 23-year-old, South Africa-born Australian singer and actor explored the complexities of love and desire in a palette of moods and tones: hushed and intimate in places, exhilarating in others. Few and far between are the albums containing three gems as earwormy as Bloom, Plum and My My My!. Sivan has earned his spot at the table of neo-pop pinups.
3. Kali Uchis, Isolation: Cosmopolitan and cross-cultural, this Colombian-American singer up and dropped the low-key pop debut of the year, dusting Latin and European influences across a sultry blend of jazz, Europop, hip-hop and old-school R&B. Uchis sounds futuristic without relinquishing the allure of the past, like when she linked up Bootsy Collins with Tyler, the Creator on the gloriously funky After the Storm.
2. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour: Lush, dreamy and wistful, Musgraves’ fourth and finest album is only country if you think of it that way going in. Otherwise it’s an expansive throwback to the folk-pop of the ’70s, the type of no-hurry LP you’d put on and get stoned to as you rue the boys who think they’re cowboys and celebrate those who really know how to take you to Big Sky country. Country doesn’t move quite like this; maybe it never has. In her modern way, Musgraves has pulled off something all new.
1. Natalie Prass, The Future and the Past: Richmond, Va., singer-songwriter Natalie Prass has said she had a full sophomore album ready to go before the 2016 presidential election. But inspired by the nation changing around her, she scrapped it to write a full new LP about resilience and solidarity, about sisterhood and self-worth and #MeToo. The result is The Future and the Past, an eclectic yet accomplished evolution of her twee-ish piano-pop sound. In a swirl of soul and jazz and indie rock pulling from inspirations as inspired as Sade and Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and TLC, Prass creates songs inspired and infectious (Short Court Style, Sisters, The Fire) and cerebral and deeply considered (Ship Go Down, Hot for the Mountain). In an imperfect year in an imperfect nation, this was as close to a perfect album as we got. Thankfully, it would’ve shined bright in any year.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.