“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”
Those words, from the great Bob Marley, couldn’t be more apt in the decade that was 2018. Has Trump’s incessant whining slowed the rotation of the Earth? A friend recently reminded me the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Beyoncé’s Coachella performance happened this year, and I couldn’t believe it. With the daily deluge of Very Bad News comes the daily respite. Some people drink. Some read. Some go the movies. And some listen to music.
While I’ve already drafted a list of the Top 20 Songs of 2018, the Best Albums of the Year list is very near and dear to me. It’s my eighth consecutive year composing it for The Daily Beast—the first edition, way back in 2011, saw The Weeknd and Drake take the top two spots. And 2018 brought with it plenty of noteworthy albums from a wide array of artists. The legend of Chicago rapper and slam poet Noname only grew with stellar debut, Room 25; Young Fathers continued to churn out nakedly-eclectic tunes; Heaven and Earth continued saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s stunning jazz evolution; and Kali Uchis’s Isolation was catchy as all hell.
But they all couldn’t make the top 10.
Here they are:
10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
There have been times, typically after a few drinks, where I’ve lamented the state of country music, and the way it’s transmogrified into pop. But even the most hardened country cynic couldn’t deny that Musgraves’ fourth studio album provides a hearty stew of soul-baring ballads and twangy pop affirmations. Stop sneerin’ and dive on in.
9. SABA – CARE FOR ME
A Chance the Rapper protégé, SABA has been kicking around the scene since late 2012, popping up on several Chance projects and releasing a flurry of singles. And the care he’s taken in crafting this, his sophomore album, is evident, with the Chicago rhymesmith offering a stirring meditation on misery and resolve over minimalist production, only serving to amplify the power of his words.
8. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
It’s been quite a journey for the teen-rap prodigy and ex-Odd Future member—one that’s taken him from L.A. to Samoa, and is filled with stops and starts. A tribute to the passing of his father, South African poet and activist Keorapetse William Kgositsile, along with that of his uncle, jazz musician Hugh Masekela, Earl’s third album is inspired chaos; a 25-minute plunge into his psyche as he wrestles with feelings of despair, buttressed by avant-garde production.
7. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
The British punk rockers’ second LP is brimming with rage—at toxic masculinity, Brexit, the tabs, xenophobia, classism, and the ways these noxious things eat away at our souls. At times devastatingly bleak, as on the dedication to singer Joseph Talbot’s daughter who passed in childbirth, and others triumphant, it’s one giant howl to the heavens that we shall overcome.
6. Robyn – Honey
Over nine tight tracks, the Swedish pop dynamo has once again, on her eighth album, reinvigorated the form. Gone are the Body Talk hooks shouted across many a caliginous dance party, replaced by razor-sharp techno grooves and power-pop lamentations. Robyn is “a human being,” as she announces here—one who cleanses herself of heartache by setting you in motion.
5. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
There is a legitimate argument to be made that, with the exception of Miseducation, Cardi’s is the greatest debut album by a female rapper ever. Those that thought “Bodak Yellow” was a fluke, or laughed when her dream of rap stardom was treated as a punchline on Love & Hip-Hop, are now eating crow. It’s Cardi’s world, and with lines and beats as infectious and penetrating as these, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
4. Christine and the Queens – Chris
It was a very big year for queer music, with hot new releases from Troye Sivan, Kevin Abstract (see: Brockhampton), Kelela, SOPHIE, Janelle Monáe, and this tantalizing gem from French pop star Christine and the Queens—an album that lays bare her struggles with femininity, depression, violence, and self-love. But make no mistake about it, this is an empowering, dizzyingly fun danceathon.
3. Pusha T – Daytona
Superproducer Kanye West’s Wyoming experiment—five albums in five weeks—yielded decidedly mixed results, from the listless (Nas) to the impressive (Kids See Ghosts). But the cream of the crop was undoubtedly Daytona, which, exploitative cover and Kanye’s MAGA line notwithstanding, sees the Virginia Beach MC—and GOOD Music CEO—spitting the deadliest venom of his career. Just ask Drake.
2. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
It’s one of the last things that the legendary Prince worked on before he passed, and his fingerprints are all over this album, with its groovy synths, guitar riffs, and seductive choruses. Still, this is very much a Monáe album, as she navigates her own sexuality via the realm of sci-fi. A gender-fluid odyssey, Dirty Computer is the work of an artist at the top of her game, in complete control of her craft. Sound like anyone?
1. Ariana Grande – Sweetener
It’s a story so crazy it must be true: pop star survives deadly Islamic terrorist bombing of her concert, creates the best album of her career—one so irresistibly catchy it immediately catapults her to the top of the pop-music ranks. She could always sing the lights out, this was never in doubt, but the songwriting has finally matured enough to match her four octave vocal range, leaving us with a collection of pop anthems that absolutely soar.