Early in the year electronic producer Nicolas Jaar released a surprise album under the moniker Against All Logic. Like its title suggests, the album consists of a collection of songs Jaar created between the period of 2012 to 2017. Despite appearing to be a compilation with over five years of material, the sound Jaar creates is consistent, unique, and experimental. The tracks are crafted around old samples from various music sources, all backed by solid house grooves and beats. The finished product is something I’ve never heard in electronic music before; and besides a few lengthier tracks near the end, the album contains no filler and flows smoothly without feeling boring.
Best Tracks: Some Kind of Game, Cityfade, Now U Got Me Hooked
2. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS
A collaborative project between Kanye West and Kid Cudi, KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a moment of complete artistic freedom for the two musicians. This freedom comes through the music in spades right from the opening track, with Kanye’s ridiculous vocal adlibs appearing halfway into the song. While both artists have been suffering from mental disorders recently, they sound the healthiest they’ve been in years. Even though we can’t know if these new-found messages of positivity and mental clarity are here to stay, the musical genius on this album can’t be denied. The production mixes the sounds of psychedelic, rock, and hip-hop into a tight and unique package. At just 23 minutes, the album has no room for filler and delivers on that promise. The short run time easily lends itself to multiple listens without getting tiring. I only wish the project was more lyrically conceptual given the intriguing name of the group.
Best Tracks: Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2), Reborn, Cudi Montage
3. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Parquet Courts came through with the best rock album of 2018 with their art punk spectacle Wide Awake!. The songs are fun, lively, and smart. Despite being punk in nature, Parquet Courts delivers some of the best grooves of the whole year, from the funky title track to the ballad Freebird II. The song-writing and lyrics perfectly balance important political messages and a catchy sound. And fuck Tom Brady.
Best Tracks: Freebird II, Wide Awake, Tenderness
4. Armand Hammer – Paraffin
Armand Hammer is a New York underground hip-hop duo consisting of emcees Billy Woods and Elucid. After releasing one of the best hip-hop albums of 2017, Known Unknowns, Billy Woods teams up once again with long-time collaborator Elucid. Delivering another standout in the world of hip-hop. Paraffin embodies the complete sounds of the east coast. From grimy, lo-fi production to dark and politically-driven lyrics. What makes this project stand out are the abstractions added into the production and song-writing that separates it from their genre contemporaries. Its sample-based with flares of industrial and jazz sounds looped in. The songs progress dynamically and avoid feeling repetitive. The performances from both rappers are outstanding and the vibe created is one of the darkest you will hear this year.
Best Tracks: No Days Off, Fuhrman Tapes, VX
5. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance.
British punk band, IDLES, returns with a quick follow-up to their great 2017 album Brutalism. The instrumentals are as violent and angry as ever, and front-man Joe Talbot’s vocals are just as intense. What’s changed for the group are their lyrics and message. IDLES uses their brash sound to bring forth words of positivity, self-worth, and unity. The band is actively shedding its façade of a bunch of angry men and showing a smart and progressive side. Its such a wonderful change of pace to the punk genre.
Best Tracks: Colossus, Never Fight A Man With A Perm, Great
6. Jack White – Boarding House Reach
Longtime musician Jack White finally reached his experimental peak with his 2018 album. He took the familiar sounds of blues rock that’s been in his repertoire for years and completed shifted it on its head. Expertly working in electronics and other instrumentation into the classic blues sound made Boarding House Reach a fun, progressive, and intriguing listen from front to back.
Best Tracks: Connected by Love, Corporation, Over and Over
7. ROSALÍA – El Mal Querer
With last year’s album Los Angeles, Spanish singer Rosalia broke onto the scene with her fantastic take on contemporary flamenco music. This time around, Rosalia is boasting new original material, and an alteration to her sound. Moving on from the acoustic and minimalist sound of classic flamenco, she has updated the genre for the modern age. El Mal Querer combines the classic Spanish sound with excellent pop sensibility and experimental production. Her vocals are terrific and are certainly some of the best in pop music now. This is the kind of music anybody can listen to; language barrier be damned.
Best Tracks: MALAMENTE, PIENSO EN TU MIRA, BAGDAD
8. Julia Holter – Aviary
The American singer-songwriter has been dominating the art/baroque pop genre the past five years with continuously great albums. There are no other musical acts that rival her ability to create incredibly beautiful and luscious soundscapes. Her last album, 2015’s Have You In My Wilderness, was her best yet. Combining strong jazz themes on top of her art pop creations. This time around on Aviary, Holter takes a much more avant-garde approach. Favoring more heavily the use of strings and orchestral instrumentation. At one hour and 30 minutes, it’s a behemoth of a record. It certainly requires patience. But all you need to do is let yourself fall into the immersive, and overwhelming beauty of the record.
Best Tracks: I Shall Love II, Underneath the Moon, Les Jeux to You
9. Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
This record is tough to describe. The best words I can use are: harsh, demented, and tortured. It’s a difficult listen. The instruments are abrasive and violent, while the lyrics are dark and unhinged. The repetition from the bass and drums becomes almost hypnotic. Daughters effectively creates their own unique sound, immersing you into this deprived musical world. The complete commitment to this tone and concept is impressive. It’s an album worth listening to multiple times. Please don’t discard it on first reaction.
Best Tracks: City Song, Satan in the Wait, Less Sex
10. Denzel Curry – TA13OO
The Florida-based rapper showed a lot of potential on his 2015 mixtape Imperial, and 2018’s TA13OO confirms that talent. The album consists of three separate acts: Light, Gray, and Dark. It’s a light concept that sets the rapper up to musically explore societies taboos. As the album progresses further down the track list, the songs get darker and darker. It culminates into a ferocious finish for Act 3, featuring some of heaviest songs of the year. Curry shows off his rapping prowess on every track with great lyrics and a variety of flows. The production does well to match his skillset. Curry also did an excellent job picking his featured artist. My main complaint is Curry does not fully commit to the album’s concept. Some of the songs seem out of place to their respective acts.
Best Tracks: Cash Maniac, Switch It Up, Percs
11. Haru Nemuri – Haru to Shura
Haru Nemuri is a relatively unknown Japanese rock artist. Her vocals are loud, powerful, and fun. Nemuri experiments heavily in the rock genre, mixing elements of noise, electronics, and hip-hop. On multiple occasions Nemuri will go from screaming to basically rapping on her tracks. It’s a fast-paced record and one of the more fun and exciting listens all year.
Best Tracks: Harutosyura, Sekaiwotorikaeshiteokure, Yumewomiyou
12. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
Rapper/Producer JPEGMAFIA came through with one of hip-hops most creative albums in years. His production is insane and glitchy, and his lyrics are violent, smart, and funny. What separates him from other experimental or abstract hip-hop acts are his vocals. JPEGMAFIA combines intense flows with pop rap singing you would hear in a Drake song. It’s hard to imagine but sounds so smooth and seamless.
Best Tracks: 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleading
13. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
U.S. Girls is a musical project from musician Meghan Remy. It is without a doubt the years funkiest record. The album features excellent instrumentation, lyrics, and catchy writing.
Best Tracks: Velvet 4 Sale, Rage of Plastics, Incidental Boogie
14. Natalia Lafourcade – Musas Vol. 2
Mexican singer-songwriter, Natalia Lafourcade delivered the year’s best folk album with Musas Vol. 2. The record has beautiful composition and great vocals. It’s an incredibly consistent track list that maybe could have been trimmed by a song or two. Once again you can completely ignore the language barrier. Give this a listen.
Best Tracks: Danza de Gardenias, Duerme Negrito, Derecho de Nacimiento
15. twenty one pilots – Trench
The alt-rock/pop duo is back in 2018 with a pretty divisive album. It seems the bands existing fans are less thrilled with Trench, while listeners who were never fans before (like myself) are really enjoying the project. Either way it’s a fun album that combines genres well and has a lot of catchy songwriting. It’s cool to see the band take more experimental strides with their music.
Best Tracks: My Blood, Chlorine, Nico and The Niners
16. Hermit and the Recluse – Orpheus vs. the Sirens
Hermit and the Recluse is a new alias and musical project for New York emcee Ka. He is consistently one of the best lyrical minds in rap currently working. His last two projects have all been heavily conceptual with Honor Killed the Samurai and The Night’s Gambit. This trend doesn’t end with Orpheus vs. the Siren. Ka takes his numerous experiences in life growing up in tough neighborhoods and relates them to the story of the fabled Greek hero. The production backing him is relatively the same as in past projects but with some new twists worked in.
Best Tracks: Sirens, Golden Fleece, The Punishment of Sisyphus
17. Current 93 – The Light is Leaving Us All
The long-running experimental folk band delivered one of the weirdest albums of the year. Its yet another conceptual album on this list that effectively transports you into the ghastly underbelly of 19th century England. The lyrics are poetic and esoteric, and the delivery of front-man David Tibet is theatrical. I love the kind of music that can immerse you into a different world. The vocal repetition of the phrase “the light is leaving us all” and the dark production culminates into quite a terrifying experience.
Best Tracks: The Policeman is Dead, A Thousand Witches, The Kettle’s On
18. MGMT – Little Dark Age
The famed pop duo rebounded in 2018 with an exercise in 80’s synth pop revival. It’s a tight and consistent listen at 10 tracks and features a lot of catchy tunes. There are some great highlights throughout. However, the album doesn’t sound completely original, giving off some very strong Ariel Pink vibes.
Best Tracks: She Works Out Too Much, When You Die, James
19. Clarence Clarity – THINK: PEACE
Clarity’s first album No Now, released in 2015, was one of the best of the year and completely flew under the radar. With THINK: PEACE, Clarity confirms that he is still one of the most exciting producers working now. He experiments with electronic production and modern R&B songwriting, creating a sound that is completely his.
Best Tracks: Adam and The Evil*, W€ Chang£, Naysayer Magick Obeyer
20. Polyphia – New Levels New Devils
New Levels New Devils is an instrumental, math rock album from the Texas-based band Polyphia. The guitar and bass playing are impressive, and the drums are punchy. An interesting addition to nearly every track is a short trap-produced interlude that will finish off the song and lead it into the next. Overall, it’s a fun listen that remains sonically consistent.
Best Tracks: Nasty, Death Note, G.O.A.T
21. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence
After releasing what I thought was the best album of 2017 with SATURATION, the boyband’s breakout success hit a myriad of drama in 2018. Despite the loss of a core member, BROCKHAMPTON still managed to return with their most mature release yet. While their fourth studio album doesn’t live up to the surprise and experimentation of their first, they came through with a noticeably more serious effort on Iridescence. The album features a lot of musical progression and some great hip-hop ballads. I’m sure they will continue to define their new sound in the future
Best Tracks: WEIGHT, SAN MARCOS, TONYA
22. Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit
Stranger Fruit is one of the wackiest albums you’ll come across this year, blending black metal with slave spirituals. It’s the invention of Swiss musician Manuel Gagneux and comes together a lot better than you would initially think. The track list of this album can feel a little bloated at times and the story/concept could use some further fleshing out, but it’s an exciting project I’m looking forward to hearing more form.
Best Tracks: Don’t You Dare, You Ain’t Coming Back, Built on Ashes
23. Andrew W.K. – You’re Not Alone
After nine years of musical silence, singer-songwriter and self-help/motivational speaker Andrew W.K. released the most inspiring and uplifting album of the year. You’re Not Alone is a happy light in a world with a lot of bad news. The music is blaring arena rock that can sound corny to some, but truly has a wonderful message and charm.
Best Tracks: Music Is Worth Living For, Give Up On You, Total Freedom
24. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Like its name suggests, Some Rap Songs is a collection of abstract hip-hop tracks that Earl uses to communicate what his mental state has been at for the last few years. For a large portion of his life and career, Earl has dealt with many obstacles like depression and anxiety. He’s an incredibly talented emcee and lyricist, and it comes through in spades as he describes the mental decay he’s experienced. The production is disjointed and trippy, matching the subject matter well.
Best Tracks: Nowhere2go, December 24, Azucar
25. Ghost – Prequelle
The magnificent Swedish heavy metal band returns with a worthy successor to their 2015 magnum-opus Meliora. This time around they took a noticeable pop direction with their sound. It’s a lot lighter in tone but embraces catchy songwriting and enhanced theatrics.
Best Tracks: Rats, See The Light, Life Eternal
SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
Sons of Kemet – My Queen is a Reptile
serpentwithfeet – soil
Kali Uchis – Isolation
Sleep – The Sciences
Kero Kero Bontio – Time ‘n’ Place
Superorganism – Superorganism
Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meatspace
The Voidz – Virtue
JID – DiCaprio 2
Screaming Females – All At Once
George Clanton – Slide
Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar