Best of 2018: Albums

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December 7, 2018

  1. Sweetener – Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has faced unimaginable tragedy and loss in the last two years, and yet, the singer has prevailed as one of the most positive and empowering forces in pop today. While she’s always been known for her distinct soprano and vocal chops, Sweetener marks a turning point for Grande. In it, she drops the bad-girl alter ego of Dangerous Woman for an equally powerful, but more honest and hopeful version of herself. Floating between songs with effortless energy, Grande celebrates love, hope, and healing with tracks that double as dance-club hits and inspiring anthems, leaving listeners without a doubt that God is, in fact, a woman. – Devon O’Dwyer

  1. Everything is Love – The Carters

The follow-up to Beyoncé’s masterful Lemonade and Jay-Z’s vulnerable 4:44, Everything Is Love brings closure to the couple’s infidelity drama and features the duo back on top of the world. Acknowledging and accepting the mistakes of the past, Mr. and Mrs. Carter use their music to discuss their reforged love, display their wealth, and highlight racial injustices. This project’s striking visual component, a music video accompanying the track “Apeshit,” juxtaposes their modern wealth and black pride with the colonial opulence of the Louvre, allowing them to shine a spotlight on the historical mistreatment of Africans in western art. Acknowledging this terrible truth and broadcasting their success in spite of it, the Carters point out that love was strong enough to fix their marriage, so perhaps love can become strong enough to fix everything else. – Thomas Scanlon

  1. Invasion of Privacy – Cardi B

“My little 15 minutes lasting long as hell, huh?” Cardi B declares in “I Do,” the final track of her debut album, Invasion of Privacy. She’s right. Invasion of Privacy is boastful and unconventional, but more importantly, it’s Cardi’s definitive response to the skeptics of her success, proving that she is here to stay. With features from the likes of SZA, Chance the Rapper, and Bad Bunny, Invasion emerges as a diverse body of work. Gliding from a traditional New York-style beat on “Bickenhead” to Latin trap on “I Like It” with ease, Cardi exudes a constant air of confidence—and it’s this self-assurance that makes Invasion of Privacy such a successful debut. – Zain Sandhu

4. Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe

Dirty Computer is a glimmering, powerful, and paradoxical masterpiece that only Janelle Monáe’s versatile genius could perfect. Throughout her discography, Monáe has adopted the persona of a cyborg, but her lyrics on this album are deeply human; her sounds are soft and sensual. She is painfully aware that some may view her, a queer black woman, as an outsider, a freak, or a dirty computer, but she responds directly with courage, grace, pride, and an enchantingly rich voice. Monáe’s brilliant, otherworldly concept albums have drawn comparison to Bowie’s space-age pop genius, but she is a cutting-edge innovator of sound, blending classic smoothness with modern funk. Whether through soul, rap, whispers, whimpers, or bold bisexual lighting, Monáe radiates a confident, raw honesty that slashes the standards of establishment power. – Emily Jaster

5. Isolation – Kali Uchis

Colombian-American singer-songwriter Kali Uchis has been honing her unique blend of R&B, funk, reggaetón, and West Coast soul ever since she was a teenager living out of her Subaru Forester. With her much lauded debut studio album, Uchis finds storytelling potential in her own enigmatic self-reflection, daring those listening to define her. A slew of standout guests (Tyler, the Creator and Jorja Smith among them) helps Isolation glide across genres and languages, Uchis switching between Spanish and English just as nimbly. Dreamy and futuristic, vintage and versatile, Isolation solidifies Uchis as one of the year’s most innovative new artists. – Amy Guay

6. iridescence – BROCKHAMPTON

It is one thing to make spectacular music in a suburban home with your friends, another to skyrocket to fame by way of that music, and yet another to maintain your original sincerity while producing a new record at Abbey Road. BROCKHAMPTON succeeds on their fourth album in two years, iridescence, because they manage to cultivate the earnest nature of their previous work while maturing both professionally and musically. iridescence creates a winding path for the listener to travel, more sonically complex, emotionally varied, and lyrically engaging than any of BROCKHAMPTON’s previous works, without ever sacrificing a moment of sincerity, honesty, or enthusiasm. The direction of the album, though shifty and occasionally jaunting, is undeniably purposeful and built to reward the listener by showcasing a new dimension of complexity in the boyband. A master class in artistic growth, iridescence earns its slot as one of the best albums of the year. – Timmy Sutton

7. Kids See Ghosts – Kanye West & Kid Cudi

It is rare that a 24-minute record has so many diverse themes holding it together. Kids See Ghosts touches on everything from the duo’s mental health struggles to Kanye’s affinity for conservative politics. Beyond the lyrics, the album stands out for its psych-rock production flourishes and fun sample choices. Kids See Ghosts is rare amongst Kanye’s other 2018 projects in that its brevity is one of its major strengths. A disembodied voice at the end of “4th Dimension” sums the record’s ethos up perfectly: “Just do that and then let the music do somethin’, and then do that again … you only want two and a half minutes if you can get it.” In a year filled with short albums, Kids See Ghosts shines as one of 2018’s best crash courses in quality over quantity. – Parker Houston

8. 7 – Beach House

7, Beach House’s seventh studio album, sees the group in peak form, delivering the dreamy pop they have come to master with fresh energy and crafting a reliable formula for synesthesia. The album plays seamlessly, transitioning from one expansive, psychedelic dreamscape to another with ease. The duo, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally, mesh wonderfully, with Legrand’s mournful voice joining Scally’s anthemic instrumentation to create lush and complex compositions—each song evokes a world of colors, shapes, and textures through the layered, gorgeous sounds the pair create. With 7, Beach House also demonstrate their ability to push the synth pop genre forward, mixing the morbid and the beautiful, the irresistible and the eerie, setting the standard for the genre in 2018. – Gustav Honl-Stuenkel

9. Be the Cowboy – Mitski

This album yee’d, and this album haw’d. Mitski has done it again with her signature sad girl stylings. Be the Cowboy, released in mid-August, is a masterpiece of buildups and breakdowns. Songs like “Geyser” and “Pink in the Night” start slow, almost painfully so, and build to a mix of screaming vocals and heavy instrumentals. The highlight of the album is “Nobody,” a bouncy song in a mix of pop and indie stylings that ends in a sort of synthetic, broken-record style diminishing silence. With all of the beauty in the sadness of this album, Mitski has proved her artistry to the highest standard. – Claire Goldberg

This post has been updated to reflect the removal of a contributor. 

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