Music

The 70 Best Albums of 2018

From forward-looking electronic and experimental to new approaches in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and punk to rock and pop, 2018 bestowed an embarrassment of musical riches upon us.

70. Gregory Alan Isakov - Evening Machines (Dualtone)

Gregory Alan Isakov turned to night's darkness as the inspiration for his October release, Evening Machines. A master at creating an atmosphere within his albums, Isakov's reliance on ethereal instrumentation and hushed vocals recreates the night's solitude. The depiction of darkness and the emptiness associated with the night's expanse resulted from Isakov's recording schedule. The album was cut in the evenings after he tended to his farm. Much as painters often broke their landscapes' dark nights with a glimmering moon, Isakov named Evening Machines after the glow radiating from his recording equipment.

Despite the album's title, Evening Machines is not representing an ersatz existence. He magnificently threads an appreciation for nature and the earthly wonders surrounding him. His lyrics burst with fecund imagery meant to show the listener what he sees. Evening Machines poetically demystifies darkness while rendering nature's vibrancy. Throughout, Isakov incorporates orchestral bursts to imbue his music with an even higher celestial vibe. His penchant for the cosmos is evident on Evening Machines and throughout his oeuvre. With his bandmates, Steve Varney, Jeb Bows, John Paul Grigsby, Philip Parker, and Max Barcelow, Gregory Alan Isakov's Evening Machines resplendently avows symmetry between the universe and a dark night. - Elisabeth Woronzoff

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify | WATCH: "San Luis" / "Chemicals"

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69. Ghost - Prequelle (Loma Vista)

The potential for Ghost to metamorphose into a major headlining rock/metal act was always there, which is why Loma Vista signed the Swedes to a lucrative deal in 2012. Since the 2010 cult favorite Opus Eponymous it's been a slow build, but over time more and more curious listeners have been drawn to mastermind Tobias Forge's devilishly delicious blend of accessible hooks, blasphemous lyrics, and a carefully honed visual aesthetic that hearkens back to the shock rock glory days of the 1970s and '80s. Fourth album Prequelle was the one that hurled Ghost over the top, thanks in large part to the blockbuster singles "Rats" and "Dance Macabre". However, there's a lot more than pop-friendly melodies on this ambitious record. Forge tips his hat to the garish heavy metal of King Diamond ("Faith"), the theatrical balladry of late-'70s Alice Cooper and Queen ("See the Light", "Pro Memoria"), and the perpetual influence of Blue Öyster Cult that looms over the band ("Witch Image"). However, the most revelatory moments are found on the instrumentals "Helvetesfönster" and "Miasma": the former reminiscent of vintage progressive rock band Camel, the latter an uproarious, wildly entertaining soundtrack to a giallo film lurking in Forge's vivid imagination. - Adrien Begrand

LISTEN: Spotify | WATCH: "Dance Macabre" / "Rats"

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68. Kyle Craft - Full Circle Nightmare (Sub Pop)

Louisiana-born, Oregon-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Kyle Craft burst on the scene in 2016 with his debut album, Dolls of Highland, a terrific slice of glittery, glam rock, power pop. He proved he's no one-trick pony the following year with Full Circle Nightmare, which managed to actually top that first album in terms of both songwriting and performance. With Chris Funk of the Decemberists handling production duties, a full band was employed, giving the songs a rambling-yet-melodic sound reminiscent of the Band or Exile on Main Street (Craft admitted to PopMatters that the 1972 Rolling Stones classic was in heavy rotation during the making of the album). The barroom country-funk twang expertly matches Craft's Dylanesque wordplay on songs like the beer-buzzed "Heartbreak Junky" and the morning-after epic "The Rager". Craft also manages to shift gears seamlessly from waltz ballads like "Bridge City Rose" to the lightning-fast rave-up of "Fever Dream Girl". Kyle Craft is a gifted artist with an immense appeal and has managed to craft a masterpiece only two albums into his career. - Chris Ingalls

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify | WATCH: "Heartbreak Junky" / "The Rager"

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67. Tracey Thorn - Record (Merge)

Part of the appeal of Record is the way it brings you back to the '90s, reminding you exactly what was so special about Everything But the Girl, reminding you just how deeply moving Massive Attack's "Protection" is. If that was all it did, Record would be fine; that it brings that voice gracefully and forcefully into 2018 is an utter feat. "Sister" is an anthem to womanhood that is simultaneously powerful ("I fight like a girl"), venomous ("Oh little man, you're such a baby"), and resigned ("Oh what year is it, still arguing the same shit"), and it may well be Thorn's crowning achievement. "Babies" is a tribute to both birth control and motherhood with a wicked sense of humor, and "Smoke" is a beautiful little folk song that might be about war, and might be about Brexit, and might be about class warfare. Thorn's language is frank, her wit is sharp, and her sense of melody is bang on. Record is brilliant. - Mike Schiller

LISTEN: Spotify | WATCH: "Queen" / "Sister"

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66. Dilly Dally - Heaven (PTKF)

If all Dilly Dally did was make a kick-ass record with Heaven, that would be enough to elevate it to being one of the year's best. Thankfully, there's substance to the swirling chaos of noise that Dilly Dally create. Heaven shows a band slowly refining their sound while still retaining the looseness that made them exciting in the first place, but the real evolution is in the lyrics and vocals of Katie Monks. Heaven is Monks' lyrical tour de force, a journey through Monks' emotional turmoil as she sorts through years of interpersonal conflicts, her band's near-breakup and the destructive allure of binge drinking. In lesser hands, this would be a dour record, but Monks' songs are alternately relaxed and intimate and distorted rave-ups that remind a listener of the power that rock music can have. Proclaiming any band to be "saviors" of a genre, but if there needed to be someone to revive rock 'n' roll, Dilly Dally might be up to the task. - Kevin Korber

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify | WATCH: "Doom" / "Marijuana" / "Sober Motel"

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65. Armand Hammer - Paraffin (Backwoodz Studioz) 

Armand Hammer is the collaborative effort of Elucid and billy woods. Unmoored from limitation yet still indebted to a New York, East Coast sound, the duo is experimental in an abnormal way. Unlike the abrasive styles of Death Grips or Dalek, Armand Hammer utilizes the brilliance of its two lyricists to abstractly convey the ills of Western government, capitalism, and racism on its excellent 2018 release Paraffin. Elucid and woods' verses crackle with vivid, disjointed imagery generating a kaleidoscopic vision of the existential malaise of contemporary black Americans. The production works similarly, as beats fade and reenter, only to often submit to ferocious distortion or tangled warping. The verses in each song burst with severity and imagination; listen to Elucid dance through his section in "Rehearse with Ornette" or woods' forceful declarations on "If He Holla". While many albums touch on a similar subject matter, few come with such careful, delicate, and verbose ferocity. - Jared Skinner

LISTEN: Bandcamp / Spotify | WATCH: "DETTOL"

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64. Florence + the Machine - High As Hope (Virgin EMI/Republic)

Florence Welch and her eight-piece Machine are a pop staple four albums into their career. And yet, they don't receive the kind of praise due them either from the pop crowd or the critics. Sure, Welch has been lauded for her great vocals and their albums are received generally well. But High As Hope proves the band to be not only generally good, but stellar. The lush songcrafting and Welch's compelling delivery of every line are uplifting without being sweet and overly optimistic. Instead, the hope that Florence and the Machine deliver is deeply rooted in sorrow, and the knowledge that sorrow is a common ground we all share. When we're vulnerable enough to bear sorrow together, Welch argues here, we find comfort in moving towards a higher hope and higher love together. - Chris Thiessen

LISTEN: Spotify | WATCH: "Big God" / "Hunger" / "South London Forever"

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63. Brandi Carlile - By the Way, I Forgive You (Elektra/WEA International)

Riding the line somewhere between Americana, catchy pop hooks, and unfettered rock, Brandi Carlile has always made an impression with her ubiquitously relatable songwriting and the stunningly dynamic way with which she delivers said writing in her performances. On the one hand, By the Way, I Forgive You is another installment in a long line of consistently good releases from the singer-songwriter, having earned herself a passionate fan-base over the years. It doesn't cause quite as much of a stir as The Fireman's Daughter may have, but it's an introspective, sincere release that soars with symphonic and stripped-back arrangements alike. The powerful clarity of Carlile's vocals as she commands a string orchestra on "The Joke", or in the way that she handles telling the story of her motherhood with such impeccable curtness, makes this another multi-sided release from the artist.

Altogether, however, it feels like a step forward towards another era for Carlile. It feels like we are just discovering another side of her on By the Way, I Forgive You—one who is further matured and adaptable, willing to express deeper tales, sometimes tragic, with either a passionately open frankness or just a dash of charming sardonic wit when it's called for. Either way, it's another step forward for an already greatly talented storyteller. - Jonathan Frahm

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "The Joke" / "The Mother"

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62. Pusha T - DAYTONA (GOOD/Def Jam)

Kanye West's spring 2018 album onslaught was quite exciting at the time. Things have changed, as they always seem to with Ye, but we can still look back in awe at the pace of the releases. Pusha-T's Daytona came first, and because of its primordial placement, it got a little lost in the smoke. So much press came after the release of Daytona, with Nas releasing his first new album in years, and Ye hosting parties in the woods with A-list celebrities and all. But, as we forget about the green of the leaves and settle into the dull gray of winter, one album from the group is the most lasting: Daytona. The formula is simple: a good rapper meets a good producer. Both Pusha and Ye are at their peaks here. Album opener, "If You Know You Know" stutter starts for a minute and then pops open, allowing Pusha-T the space he needs to do what he does best, spit confidence into a microphone while weaving melodies into wordy verses. "When we all clicking like Golden State," he says. Ye came out on top for a week in May 2018. Truly, the title says it all. If you know you know. We know. - Christopher Laird

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "If You Know You Know"

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61. Gwenno - Le Kov (Heavenly)

Best remembered as a member of the Pipettes, Gwenno Saunders re-emerged in 2015 with Y Dydd Olaf, a jaw-dropping sci-fi concept album sung primarily in Welsh that mined the innovative sounds of such art rock legends as Can, Stereolab, and Broadcast. Three years later, Gwenno's follow-up continues to develop her unique, ebullient Krautpop, but her language of choice this time around is Cornish, which she grew up speaking, and which she felt was her duty to help preserve the obscure language. With the help of collaborator and producer Rhys Edwards and Super Furry Animals members Gruff Rhys and Gorwel Owen, Le Kov feels a lot richer musically, as Saunders continues to exhibit enormous talent when it comes to creating dreamy, otherworldly soundscapes, gracefully alternating between pulsating ("Tir Ha Mor") to playful ("Daromres y'n Howl"). You'd think that such an ambitious album would be laced with gravitas, but Gwenno charms the listener time and again. Hell, at one point she sings about cheese, because of course she can: "Is there cheese? / Is there or isn't there? / If there's cheese, bring cheese." What's not to love about that? - Adrien Begrand

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Eus Keus?" / "Tir Ha Mor"

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