2018 was a big year for music. Many influential artists released a project or even multiple throughout the year. This is my list of my top 12 albums this year, along with a list of honourable mentions at the end.
12. Ye - Kanye West
In the summer of 2018, the infamous Chicago rapper and producer Kanye West decided to move to Wyoming where he would work on music without distractions. The result of this were 5 albums that he produced, released in the span of five weeks. These are, Pusha T’s Daytona, his own Ye, Nas’s Nasir, the collaborative project between Kanye and Kid Cudi Kids See Ghosts, and Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. A couple of these were let-downs, but the rest were impressive enough to make it on this short list.
Kanye never relies on a single distinct style for any of his projects, and always succeeds, in some way, to change the music industry. Ye, as well as the rest of the Wyoming projects, are all 7 tracks and have 20-something minute runtimes. This is a stark contrast with some other popular projects released in the year, such as the Migos’s Culture II, and Rae Sremmurd’s SR3MM, tedious albums with 25+ tracks, needless filler, and runtimes approaching or exceeding two hours, created for the purpose of maximizing ad revenue on streaming platforms. Since the release of these albums, there has been a welcome wave of brief, but polished, albums by big musical artists.
The text on the album cover, “I hate being bipolar it’s awesome”, is indicative of Kanye coming to terms with his bipolar disorder, which is a central topic of this album. The opener I Thought About Killing You is left to the listener’s interpretation, but a commonly agreed on theory is that Kanye is actually talking about himself. Yikes is a frenzied track about his drug problems that landed him in the hospital in 2016. Ghost Town has Cudi and 070 Shake joining Kanye to make an emotional track and the final track Violent Crimes is a deeply personal track about fatherhood.
Overall, Ye, is probably one of the weaker albums in Kanye West’s solo discography. But that still doesn’t mean that it’s bad or even mediocre in any way, it just isn’t quite on the same level as the grandiose My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or my personal favorite Yeezus. However, it is still thoroughly enjoyable, and at such a short run-time, it is definitely worth at least a couple of listens. It’s Kanye’s most instrospective and low-key album yet, and makes for an excellent addition to his discography.
And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free
2012-2017 is an album by All Against Logic, the moniker of Chilean-American artist Nicholas Jaar. It is a compilation of electronic house, sample-heavy tracks that makes it somewhat reminiscent of works like DJ Shadow’s 1996 Endtroducing…
The songs ususally start of restrained, and as they progress they become more interesting and fun to listen to.
Such A Bad Way samples Kanye’s screams in I Am A God near the end. Some Kind of Game makes use of Pastor T. L. Barrett’s gospel song After The Rain, pitching it up to make it sound like female vocals and making funky beat to accompany them. These are just a couple of the many songs Nicholas Jaar samples. whosampled.com is a great resource for finding out the more obsucre samples, and how he makes them sound fresh.
2012-2017 is a fun project with little to no flaws, which I heartily recommend.
Although technically an EP not an album, with the under 25 minute Kanye produced Wyoming albums and other albums on the short side, I think the distinction between the two isn’t really clear, so I’ve decided to include them on the list as well.
This is Richard D. James’s, known most commonly as Aphex Twin, latest project following the 2014 release of Syro. Aphex Twin is known for being one of the most influential and talented figures in electronic music. He’s been making critically acclaimed masterpieces since the 80’s and is still going strong.
The first track off of the Collapse EP is T69 collapse, which came out as a single a little while before the EP was released. Aphex Twin is known to be obsessed with perfection with his music, and most of his work has dozens of layered sounds and instruments, arranged meticulously. This track is Aphex Twin at his best. The best way to describe this track would be “complex”, but in a good way.
And that goes for the rest of the album really. Other than the haunting voice in the track abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909] (yes that’s what it’s called) that proclaims “Give me your hand, my friend / And I will lead you to a land of abundance, joy, and happiness”, there are no other lyrics.
It’s hard to describe this sort of music, and my advice would be to just listen to it.
In the end, this is a master of a genre of music making some of his best music, and is one of the most impressive electronic albums of the year.
MGMT made a return in 2018 with their fourth album Little Dark Age, their first music in five years. It’s pop music, but very peculiar pop. The album is a collection of tracks that vary from fun and silly to dark and serious.
The first track, She Works Out Too Much, is about a relationship falling apart because, well, “She works out too much”, and “he doesn’t work out enough”. Funnily enough, despite this theme, the track has a very energetic and upbeat beat. The following track, Little Dark Age, is a lot more grim, and is about keeping dark secrets. When You Die tells of a man who is clearly not pleased with being known as a nice guy, with lines like “I’m not that nice / I’m mean and I’m evil / Don’t call me nice” and “Baby, I’m ready, I’m ready, ready, ready to blow my lid off”. TSLAMP (Time Spent Looking at My Phone) is a funny and scarily relatable and accurate song about phone addiction. When You’re Small is moody and can be interpreted as talking about the difference between being a “small” artist and a more well-known one.
I couldn’t really point out a single weakness in the album’s track listing. Every track tells an interesting story, and although at first there doesn’t appear to be any overarching theme to the album, I think that it makes sense that all of these songs are about specific events that happened in the album artists’ lives. Either way, it’s a great album that’s been one of my favorites of the year since it was released in February.
The stereo sounds strange
I know that if you hide
It doesn't go away
As I'm losing consciousness
My sullen face is all aglow
Time spent looking at my phone
Daytona by Pusha T was the first of the Kanye West-produced Wyoming projects, setting a very high bar for the ones following it. At 7 tracks and 21 minutes, Pusha T’s latest album is short, but as a result is air-tight and without any filler. The tracks flow nicely from one to the next, and every one of the songs has an incredible beat and production to it provided by Kanye.
There’s not much for me to say about this album, other than that it’s very consistent and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The first track If You Know You Know is definitely a highlight, with its beat exploding into a luscious combination of guitar sampling and light wailing. The album’s later tracks turn the more playful tone of the album into a darker one. Santeria has 070 Shakes provides haunting Spanish female vocals as a refrain, which helps make this atmosphere convincing. The final track, Infrared, led to a series of interesting events. It contains a few subliminal disses towards Drake, such as the line “How could you ever right these wrongs / When you don’t even write your songs?”, referring to Drake’s usage of ghostwriters. This clearly upset Drake, as he released a great response in the song Duppy Freestyle on the same day Daytona came out, which took shots at both Pusha T and Kanye. However, it seemed as if Pusha T was expecting this, as he released the track The Story of Adidon which revealed that Drake had a child that he was hiding from the public, after which Drake quickly gave in.
There’s not much for me to say about this album, other than that it’s very consistent and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Pusha T is a well-respected legend in the rap community, and combined with some of Kanye’s most unique production, the result was an entertaining and impressive album.
Then had to weigh, "Do you war or wait?"
(If you know, you know)
When we all clickin' like Golden State
And you and your team are the motorcade
Just add water, stir it like a shake
You Won’t Get What You Want is the fourth studio album by rock band Daughters. It’s a noise rock album that is one of the most intense listens of the year. Band member Alexis Marshall is the narrator and tells a story dripping in atmosphere (?) to the sound of frantic guitar and drum-playing. The first words he utters are
Words do nothing
No one sleeps
setting the scene for the rest of the album. The top-notch lyricism creates a mysterious story, reminiscent to me of certain post-apocalyptic novels such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with a large amount of metaphors which are left up to the listener’s interpretation. The tracks alternate between suspenseful to dizzyingly explosive. It’s a cinematic experience and one of the best releases of 2018.
Face like he was sucking concrete through a straw
Some faces not even a mother can love.
The shadow haunts him for several yards
The ghosts of what he was, desperate to keep up until gone
Now the road, punching upwards into his soft, naked feet
Iglooghost is a young Irish producer. Clear Tamei and Steel Mogu are both short, under 20 minute EPs, which were released on the same day, and I like to think of them as two parts of an album.
It’s almost as if Iglooghost has made his own entirely new genre of cartoonish fast-paced electronic music. The songs are hyperactive and unpredictable, with sudden drops and changes of pace.
What makes the artist’s discography especially interesting is the hidden lore behind it. The creatures on the album covers and in the music videos are part of their own universe made by Iglooghost, which, as his discography expands, he gives listeners a greater glimpse into. Iglooghost has even created his own alphabet and language which these creatures sign in in these songs.
As could be guessed from the color scheme of the EP covers, Steel Mogu has a somewhat darker tone than Clear Tamei, but both have similar sounds. The penultimate track slows down the quick pace of the album before the epic closer Niteracer.
Iglooghost is, clearly, an incredibly talented producer. I’m excited for his future work, and what he will do to build off of his current sound. He’s not as well-known as many of the other artists on this list, but I’m sure his talent won’t go unnoticed, and I predict that he will grow to become a prominent figure in electronic music.
Denzel Curry is one of the most consistent rappers, and he arguably has not dropped a single project that was less than excellent. TA13OO is no different.
The album’s rollout was quite interesting – it came out in three parts, acts, Light, Gray and Dark. They were released a day after each other, and together they formed the complete album.
As the names of the acts suggest, in general the album starts off with “lighter” more melodic material in the beginning and finishes off with “darker” more aggressive songs at the end.
Denzel Curry has stated in the past that he approaches different sounds with different alter-egos. This results in a very varied album, with tracks where Denzel is rapping thoughtful, personal lines, and others where he is shouting braggadocious, snappy one-liners with explosive energy.
TA13OO also includes some very impressive guest verses by up-and-coming rappers. This includes J.I.D, highlight of the 2018 XXL Freshman List, whose outstanding lyricism combined with clever usage of onomatopoeia makes SIRENZ one of the best tracks on the album, JPEGMAFIA and Zillakami, who join forces with Denzel Curry in one of the hardest tracks of 2018, VENGEANCE. These three guest rappers all released their own outstanding projects this year (Dicaprio 2, Veteran, City Morgue VOL 1 respectively), which unfortunately missed out on the top 16, but still are very honorable mentions (list at the bottom).
Denzel Curry tackles topics like anxiety, gun violence, fame, the rap industry and more on TA13OO. Whenever his rap lines aren’t as lyrically impressive, Denzel Curry makes sure to more than make up for it with his energy and amazing instrumentals. TA13OO is an impressive addition to the Denzel Curry’s already fantastic discography.
By the dawn's early light, double Sprite and a R.I.P. tee
So proudly, lights gleam, let the gun blaow in the night time
Of the slum house, little drum bump with the one thousand
Come-come, here they come
The tongue speed spells cause blades and rashes
Like who gonna go and betray the beast?
Like who gonna go start war with me?”
In the past, I’ve largely ignored Mac Miller’s discography, as I naively dismissed him as a ‘frat rapper’. His big hit, 2001’s “Donald Trump”, is a track that has Mac rapping about taking over the world and haters getting mad. Though a fun track, it wasn’t particularly deep. So when he released a new album in August of 2018 titled Swimming, I ignored it.
Just a month later, Mac Miller passed away from a drug overdose. I heard about how his last album changed for people after this, and so I decided to give a listen. To my surprise, I was completely blown away by the album, and think that it’s one of the most beautiful and polished albums of the year.
Mac Miller had broken up with actress and singer Arianna Grande a few months prior to the release of the album. It’s clear that this, as well as his long-term problems with drugs and stress, have had a large impact on the album’s theme. As he says in the opening track Come Back to Earth, “And I was just drowning, but now I’m swimming”. Mac Miller makes several references to the album’s title, and how he, metaphorically, has to keep treading water to keep hid head about the water.
In a Rolling Stones interview Mac Miller stated that the album’s title is also referring to the album’s vibe, which he descrives as “watery”. Swimming fuses rap and jazz to create a soothing project. Mac Miller is a talented producer, and with the help of others, including some big names like Flying Lotus and J. Cole, has created one of the best-sounding albums this year. Though Swimming, at about an hour long runtime, is longer than many albums on this list, its beats are varied enough for the album to never get boring and are thematically tied together so that the album sounds like a cohesive project as opposed to a selection of loosely connected tracks, something I really value.
I wouldn’t say that Swimming is this generation’s Pink Moon (1972 folk allbum released by Nick Drake two years before he committed suicide, whose lyrics make reference to a failing fight with depression). I don’t think this album is a depressing one - if anything, it’s one filled with overcoming obstacles and hope. However, there are some interesting lines in here that could be hinting at self-doubt and something darker. In Perfecto, when Mac Miller sings the chorus for the second time, he adds a couple of lines in the background,
Because it's worth it
(Is it? Is it? Is it? Is it? Is It?)
Who really has the time at all?
(Is it? Is it? Is it? Is it? Is It?)
In my opinion, Swimming, although receiving generally positive reviews upon its release, is severely underrated. I think people initally came into the album with the same negative bias that I had. It does seem that more and more listeners are coming back to the album and hearing something completely different now and are now much more receptive to it. It’s very sad that this is the last Mac Miller album. It’s clear that he has grown and matured significantly since the beginning of his career. Rest in peace.
Keep your eyes to the sky, never glued to your shoes
Guess there was a time when my mind was consumed
But the sun coming out now, clouds start to move
Don't tell me nothing but the truth
I'm tired, I don't gotta spare a second
Win or lose, win or lose
I don't keep count, nobody checkin'
NTS Sessions 1-4 is the 13th studio by British duo Autechre. Autechre (along with Aphex Twin who is also on this list) are among the most influential groups in the IDM genre. They formed in 1987, and for the last 30 plus yearshave been releasing universally acclaimed albums.
This album is a bit different than their previous work. It was initially played over the online radio station NTS Radio, and it’s also 8 hours long, split into 4 separate 2 hour long parts.
I’ll admit that I’m not too familiar with Autechre’s work, or IDM in general. But I was intrigued when I heard the length of the album, not being sure whether a work that long could function and stay cohesive and interesting throughout. I personally prefer albums that are short, under 40 minutes preferably, and albums that are longer than an hour have to be outstanding for me to enjoy them and listen to multiple times. To my surprise, I ended up finding the music fascinating and never found it a drag to listen to.
Similar to Aphex Twin, a lot of the track titles are seemingly gibberish (ex: bqbqbq, elyc9 7hres, dummy casual pt 2, g 1 e 1), but supposedly make sense to the duo. The music itself is divided into four parts. It’s hard to lable this music with a certain theme, as I believe that electronic music of this kind is left to the interpretation of the listener and allows them to make up stories and attach it to certain tracks. It does however seem that the album starts off calmer and more methodical, and as it progresses becomes more chaotic and abrasive, before slowing down before the finale, the hour-long “all end”, a track that would be as a transcedental soundscape. After an inital build-up, the sound stays sort of similar, changing in subtle ways throughout. It sort of sounds similar to the Windows 98 startup sound slowed down by 4000% (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aa5yZz2Xvhk). Maybe it is in fact a severely slowed down version of a sound. Either way, it’s a fantastic ambient piece.
The music is hard to describe. Perhaps it is just ahead of its time, or at the very least it is unique. The individual tracks are almost like living micro-organisms, evolving and mutating with time. Autechre have been doing this for a long time and are professionals and are very aware of what they are doing. They know that their audience, a generation of people with access to almost all the music made in the last century and beyond, “who know about Xenakis and Stockhausen (composers who are attributed to drastically changing 20th and 21st century music) and are … 16-year-olds”. They don’t try to appeal to the mainstream, and instead are always aiming to explore new territory in music. That makes their music somewhat hard to get into for most people.
What makes the album especially appealing is that there is much to explore here. Autechre has said that for most sound mixing in the industry, there is a tendency to make every sound audible, whereas they try “deep mixing” to make sounds that “you aren’t necessarily aware of at first listen”.
Although I am able to enjoy it, I am aware that I don’t have sufficient experience with the genre to fully appreciate it. I think that with an adequately open-mind anybody that has been exposed to some IDM can have a good time with this album.
The quotes come from an interesting interview with Pitchfork, which also helped give some context and history. Check it out here, https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/autechre-interview-nts-sessions-david-lynch-where-code-meets-music/
Thebe Kgositsile, known by his rap name Earl Sweatshirt, has been rapping and putting his work out on the internet since 2008, when he was in 8th grade. He was previously part of the rap group Tyler Creator’s (who released the brilliant Flower Boy in 2017) rap group Odd Future. He released a few solo and was part of a couple Odd Future projects before leaving the group in 2015. From that point onward, he did not put out any music other than a few tracks in 2016 under the alias “randomblackdude”. He made his reappearance in November of 2018 on Vince Staples’s new album FM! in the twenty second track “New earlsweatshirt - Interlude”, after which he released two singles and then the album Some Rap Songs on November 30th.
In a tweet Earl Sweatshirt stated that 2018 was the roughest year of his life. In part, this was because his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile, a South African poet and political activist, passed away earlier in the year. Additionally he has presumedly been trying to deal with a pretty severe case of depression. This is evident in the two singles preluding the album. Here’s an excerpt from NOWHERE2GO,
Only thing on my mind was death
Didn't know if my time was next
The rest of the album has depression and anxiety as a central topic. Some Rap Songs is 15 very brief tracks with a total run-time of 24 minutes.
The production of the album is very intersting, and is possibly the beginning of the popularity of a new sound in hip-hop - lo-fi rap. The beats behind Earl’s vocals are crackling and hissing, and have a unique aesthetic to them. This style is actually heavily inspired by a new group calling themselves SLUMS. SLUMS is led by 19-year-old MIKE, who released four projects this year. Some Rap Songs heavily borrows from their sound, with Earl Sweatshirt even shouts him out a couple times in the album (ex: “I was in the kitchen with [my homie] MIKE / Gotta listen when I tell ya simmer down”).
The reason why Some Rap Songs is on this list and MIKE’s work (narrowly) missed out is execution. Earl Sweatshirt’s years of experience and his lyrical talent which is almost unmatched and can be compared to the likes of MF DOOM turns this album from an amazing album to a masterpiece.
An interesting track is “Playing Possum”. This track is a duet made up of a recording of his mom, Cheryl Harris, a professor at UCLA, giving a keynote speech and his dad, a famous South African poet, reciting one of his poems. The final track is an instrumental one, and remixes a song by his uncle and legendary African jazz musician Hugh Maskela, who passed away shortly after his father.
The album’s lyrical content is largely sad, but perhaps the album was a way for Earl Sweatshirt to cope with the problems in his life. I can only hope that Earl Sweatshirt is affected positively by the overwhelmingly positive reception to his album, and continues putting more works out as one of the most talented young rappers right now.
Seen teeth on the floor, leakin’ again
Bumpin' shoulders with the devil in disguise
Shoulder-level water on the rise
Twist, 40s in the morning in the winter
I heard you got your sauce at the Enterprise
Evidently, it was rented but it's mine
Evidently, it was written like Nas
Grand total, it's a whole lotta raps
Quicksand, scramblin' outta that
Kids See Ghosts is the first album by rap duo Kid Cudi and Kanye West. It was one of five Wyoming Projects that Kanye produced and released in the summer of 2018. Whereas Kanye’s latest solo project Ye was scrapped and redone in less than two weeks, it is clear that with Kids See Ghosts, the album has been in the works for a much longer time. The production featured on this album is unmatched by any in rap albums released in 2018.
As always, Kanye makes use of unique samples that he chops up and turns into mesmerizing beats. These include What Will Santa Claus Say?, a 1930 Christmas song by Louis Prima in 4th Dimension, and the previously unreleased Kurt Cobain guitar sample in the closer Cudi Montage. Cudi’s signature humming and calm vocals makes the album sound ethereal. The album’s themes mostly revolve around depression, anxiety, tiredness, and getting over these feelings. Kid Cudi had talked about in past interviews about his struggle with alcohol, anti-depressant addiction, and suicidal thoughts. This albums seems to indicate that he has gotten better and is moving on past these problems.
Kanye’s verses on the album range from raunchy to emotional and heartbreaking. They make up a small fraction of the album though, often taking a backseat to the Kid Cudi’s singing and repeated mantras such as the line “keep movin’ forward” in Reborn.
Guest verses include Pusha T (whose Kanye-produced album Daytona was released a couple weeks before Kids See Ghosts) in the opener Feel the Love and Yasiin Bay, known commonly as legendary old-school rapper Mos Def in Kids See Ghosts. The album cover was created by Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, who also made the cover of Kanye’s 2007 Graduation.
Kanye and Kid Cudi’s psychedelic experiment worked, producing the best album out of the Wyoming projects, and the best rap album of the year.
'Til your niece get shot in the dome-piece
Then you go and buy your own pieced
Hopin' it'll help you find your own peace
- Konoyo - Tim Hecker
- Veteran - JPEGMAFIA
- renaissance man - MIKE
- ON TO BETTER THINGS - Adé Hakim
- Poison Ivy - Yung Lean
- FM! - Vince Staples
- Year of the Snitch - Death Grips
- Dicaprio 2 - J.I.D
- CITY MORGUE VOL 1 - City Morgue
- Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film) - Thom Yorke
- Bread EP - The Alchemist
- Streams of Thought Vol. 1/2 - Black Thought