Another year comes to an end and, man, it’s been a real year of change on my end. New job in a completely new line of work that I seem to have a real aptitude for. Hopefully they’ll keep me on so I don’t have to go back to where I was (which would be very bad mental healthwise) and I can talk, next year, about my first full year as a data analyst.
Now, at the beginning of the year I had a goal to try and listen to 100 albums released in 2018 before the year was out. This… didn’t quite happen and I have ended up with 57 albums to make my Top 20 from. I wish I’d had more time to add to this list, but I had a real podcast renaissance that took away from my music time. Still, this is more albums than last year, which is an improvement.
As with last year I have an honourable mention before embarking on my Top 20 so let’s get started…
Between Mamamoo and f(x), 2018 has started to introduce me to the world of K-Pop. I’m not exactly a superfan as my enjoyment is made more from exceptions than rules, but something about these two girl groups really struck a chord.
This year Mamamoo have started on a ‘Four Seasons’ project, with three of these EPs already having been released by the time I’ve written this post. On their own, only one of the EPs (Yellow Flower) got close to making a solo appearance on this list – mainly because of ‘Starry Night’, which ended up being one of my most played songs of the year. I can only imagine how good an album made of the highlights of the already released 3 EPs and the yet to be released final EP could have been.
Right, let’s get on with the actual countdown!
I usually don’t go for ties on lists, but for this year I really needed to make an exception. Since music appreciation can depend heavily on mood, it makes sense that the two albums I have drawn at 20 have suited very different purposes in 2018.
First up is Digital Rain, an electronic album inspired by the artist’s nostalgia for precipitation, something that’s not too common in his current home of LA. Over the course of 19 songs this album creates various moods based on different forms of wet weather, whether it be a light shower, a downpour or snow.
At various points in 2018 this is an album that has come to my rescue during times of stress or at times where I need some ambient music to drown out the office for the sake of proof-reading. It’s not common for me to listen to albums like this, but the concept drew me in and then the moodscapes kept me coming back for more.
Top Tracks: Digital Rain, Double Exposure, Houston
I have so much respect for someone who can sing in multiple languages, then you get Christine and the Queens who can concurrently create the same album in her native tongue and in English. Whilst I know that that are subtle differences between both albums, during the course of the year I only listened to the French version (with the exception of ‘Girlfriend’). Don’t know why, other than preferring how she sounds in French.
Where Digital Rain was a good album to sooth tension, Chris served a purpose as being a really satisfying walking and reading album. Songs like ‘Doesn’t Matter’ ended up on repeat a lot as I was writing blog posts and I randomly find likes from ‘Comme si on s’aimait’ and ‘L’étranger (voleur d’eau)’ popping into my head.
It’s a bit of a shame that all the stellar songs are so front-loaded into the album, much like with Bat For Lashes’ The Bride, but those songs are so good that you can just listen to those songs on loop again and again.
Top Tracks: Doesn’t matter (voleur de soleil), La marcheuse, Damn, dis-moi
Ugh their minds. When I was 18/19 there is no way that I could come up with a lyric like “I pave the backstreet with the mist of my brain”, but that’s what they do on album highlight ‘Falling Into Me’ as their voices echo in the swirling synth-nirvana. Sonically this is one of the most beautifully produced songs I came across all year, and the rest of the album is pretty damned great too.
‘Falling into Me’ . I’m not entirely sure of the point of ‘Missing Call (1)’ other than something that I wish I could set as a ringtone on my new phone. It does, however, set an interesting barrier between the first half with the singles and the latter half that contains two very long pieces – album closer ‘Donnie Darko’ building and building the tension to an excellent conclusion.
It’s hard to believe that I’m All Ears is going to be the limit of the pop powers of Let’s Eat Grandma. If they continue on this path of development, when comparing this to their debut album I, Gemini, these two stand to be real forces to be reckoned with when it comes to pushing the boundaries of pop music.
Top Tracks: Falling Into Me, I Will Be Waiting, Donnie Darko
I think I was in the minority in not quite seeing what all the fuss was about with Father John Misty’s previous album Pure Comedy. It’s one of the pitfalls of singing songs with an almost-persona, sometimes that persona can take over – so I’m heartened to see him moving back to the sound that led me to use one of his songs for the first dance at my wedding.
God’s Favourite Customer arose from some event in Tillman’s life that turned everything upside down. It’s lead to songs that are far more introspective and intimate, especially when compared to the proselytising on Pure Comedy. From the starting track ‘Hangout at the Gallows’ you know this is back to where I liked him best – there’s the emotional rip of ‘Please Don’t Die’ and the conversation between him and a fictional hotel employee in ‘Mr Tillman’.
Now, if there is one thing that’s missing from God’s Favourite Customer compared to I Love You, Honeybear it’s the sense of humour. I mean there’s no moment in here that comes close to ‘Chateau Lobby #4’, but that’s fine because we have the honest, heart-on-his-sleeve Josh Tillman back. I hope he’s recovered from what sparked this album’s creation.
Top Tracks: Mr. Tillman, Please Don’t Die, Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All
I hope I’m not the only person who ended up confusing Beach House with Best Coast way back when. Needless to say, once I heard the amazing Beach House song ‘Elegy To The Void’ a few years ago, I got the picture: Best Coast is light and breezy, Beach House is dream pop and the natural development of My Bloody Valentine.
7 is probably the most accessible album that Beach House has made, especially after the darkness of Thank Your Lucky Stars. Whilst their aesthetic is still undeniably the dark swirls of dream pop, they have really started to find a way to match this with hooks and some earworm worthy melodies. Take, for example, ‘Lemon Glow’ – I don’t know any of the lyrics but I can sure as hell envisage those pulses.
Whilst 7 does lack some cohesion, it is still a privilege to get lost in their world. The ethereal vocals and the darkness of their soundscapes made for some interesting moods when I listened to this through a lot of May. If this album had come out when I was in my teens, this would have blown my mind and given me a proper introduction into a genre I would only discover thanks to album lists. Still, at least I have it now.
Top Tracks: Lose Your Smile, Lemon Glow, L’inconnue
2018 has seen me listen to so many different things, but one of the big miracles was coming across a rare rap album that I could fall for. Never have I heard such a sex-positive, all-inclusive, raunchy collection of songs on a rap album. The fact that ‘Crayons’ has yet to appear as a lip-sync on RuPaul’s Drag Race is a travesty that I hope is down to them not being able to book her rather than it not being on their radar.
Compared to a lot of the safer music that I tend to listen to tracks like ‘Spoiled Milk Titties’ and ‘Cinnamon Toast Crunch’ serve as the perfect antidote. Cupcakke’s lyrics walk that line between filthy and hilarious, all served with a shameless style that make me just sit back in grinning admiration. If I had half the confidence I hear on these tracks, I swear I could take over the world – or at least a small village.
It’s not all raunch and sass, tracks like ‘Self Interview’ and ‘Total’ show more of a softness and some self-reflection. I don’t know necessarily if this is a good gateway album into rap or just an excellent rap album, but I know that I need to listen to her other 2018 album (Eden) at some point in the near future.
Top Tracks: Crayons, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Total
Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards has an incredibly impressive voice and her work with Nate Brenner has always led to albums that take a variety of world music elements and turn them into interesting indie pop. Their second album Whokill remains the highlight of their discography, but this year’s release (I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life) showed an interesting development in their sound.
Whilst they are still very music a band with global influence, these have now been paired with electronic elements – which has created their first album where you could dance to some of their tracks… even if their tracks are primarily concerned with the encroachment on privacy and identity politics. I mean, take my favourite track ‘ABC 123’ – in this they name check the NSA whilst also talking about voting, white centrality and fires in California.
So many albums I’ve listened to this year have been political in nature (because the times we live in, I guess), but I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life has been able to make listening and talking about these topics fun and danceable.
Top Tracks: ABC 123, Who Are You, Look At Your Hands
For me, a new release from Robyn is a major event. The Body Talk albums were pop landmarks and her work with Royksopp in the interim years made for excellent stop gaps whilst waiting for her next full release. So here we are with Honey after an 8 year wait and, with the exception of single ‘Missing U’, Robyn has shape-shifted into something very different.
Not gonna lie, but during my first listen of Honey I was profoundly disappointed that this was not the same pop confection spinner that I loved on her self-titled album and on Body Talk. However, the beats she’d created stayed with me – specifically those of ‘Human Being’ and ‘Beach2k20’. Whilst I still miss the old pop, I cannot help but respect Robyn for her choice to innovate – something she really managed to succeed at here.
Honey is an album of heartbreak and survival disguised in pop, post-disco and beats. With those things considered, it’s no wonder that Robyn (the creator of ‘With Every Heartbeat’, ‘Dancing On My Own’ and ‘Call Your Girlfriend’) was able to craft something beautiful here.
Top Tracks: Human Being, Honey, Missing U
Back in my 2015 list, in those days before I spent days working on writing blurbs for every album in my top 20, Gretchen Peters’ album Blackbirds sat at number 15 in what was an incredibly competitive year. This year finds her follow-up album Dancing With The Beast in a similarly competitive year, having been kicked out of the top 10 in the final few weeks of the year.
This is the first of three ‘women in folk’ albums that will appear in my year-end list (okay, this is more on the Americana) and, sadly, is yet another one of her albums that doesn’t have it’s own Wikipedia page or a mention on Metacritic. It’s just another album that proves the point that you don’t know what amazing music is being made unless you go out and search for it.
Dancing With The Beast is a beautifully crafted piece of dark folk/Americana. This collection of the songs tell various stories of women at different stages in their life. She goes darkest in songs like ‘Wichita’ and ‘Lowlands’, but it isn’t all like this. Towards the end, the album softens with tracks like ‘Love That Makes A Cup of Tea’ which is a bit twee, but is a lovely sentiment to end an album that deals with the hazards of being a woman.
Top Tracks: Lowlands, Dancing With The Beast, Wichita
There are times where I find it hard to believe that Mitski isn’t a side-project of St Vincent. I mean, have you ever seen them in the same place at the same time? Conspiracy theories aside, whilst Be The Cowboy may not be my album of the year it does contain ‘Washing Machine Heart‘ – my song of the year.
In the middle of album opener ‘Geyser’ where we see Mitski transform from the Puberty 2 version of herself into something stronger, more elegant and destined for stardom. Be The Cowboy sees Mitski doing something we haven’t seen her do before – sing as someone other than herself. With this different sort of freedom, she is able to soar and deliver her world view through so many more lenses than she has before.
Every year there is an album whose placement is likely to rise as the years go by – I think that Be The Cowboy could very well be that album for 2018. In the lead up to writing up this Top 20 I have been so focused on everything I’ve listened to this year that it has kinda gotten lost in the pack. Maybe we’ll see how things are when I do a decade end list.
Top Tracks: Washing Machine Heart, Geyser, Nobody
It may have one the weirdest and nonsensical titles of any album this year, but the name of this album is not where the strangeness ends. No, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is an experimental avant-garde pop album and the first full studio album from producer Sophie Xeon. Her’s is a pretty unique voice and one you may have heard in their previous credits for Charli XCX, Let’s Eat Grandma and Madonna.
I’m not entirely sure if there are many albums out there with the same musical palette as Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. However, considering the critical success and her growing list of collaborators, it’s likely one that is likely to be inspiring a slew of albums in the near future. So if you hear an album going forward with a weird music of grunge electronica mixed with sweeping pop vistas, you know the source.
Starting with ‘It’s Okay To Cry’ is incredibly disarming considering the songs that are to follow. Then again, as a trans-artist, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides is one of a growing body of new stories that are just coming to the pop masses. Songs like ‘Faceshopping’, ‘Whole New World’ and ‘Immaterial’ all deal with the concept of gender whilst also delivering throbbing beats and an interesting take on pop sensibilities. Not necessarily an album you’ll get on the first go, but definitely one that rewards multiple listens.
Top Tracks: Faceshopping, Ponyboy, Immaterial