I have typically been confident in the staying power of albums, until this year. Despite conversations to the contrary about this musical medium, I’ve had plenty of tough choices to make when compiling past yearly lists. That isn’t to say that this year’s list is lacking in quality music. I would just say this list is more straightforward and didn’t have quite as many surprises as I’d typically like to hear.
Familiar names like Father John Misty and Lykke Li continued strong legacies with potent efforts that showed growth amid consistency. Newer names, and let’s be honest more comical names, like Soccer Mommy, Sure Sure, and Rolling Coastal Blackouts Fever, impressed with complete and repay worthy records. DJ Koze and Royce da 5’9” built on their momentum from 2017 with moving albums that grew memorable throughout this year. Pusha T and Drake both released records that were very different in many regards, from album length (Daytona was criminally short, while Scorpion was a tad too long) to content (Pusha slung disses and street reporting, while Drake shared clever boasts and hits galore). In the end, both hip-hop heavyweights made impressions from their previous records. Collaborative works also made for top notch albums from Big Red Machine (Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon + The National’s Aaron Dessner), Mountain Man, and a feature filled return from Lil Wayne.
In the end, the toughest choices were between Janelle Monae, Kacey Musgraves, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 3 very different artists, but each impressively evolved from previous efforts. Unknown Mortal Orchestra continued their penchant for earworm hooks and melodies, but ‘Sex & Food’ felt heavier from a mood perspective. On a personal note, the album was the perfect soundtrack for a drizzly, yet gorgeous train ride from Tacoma to Portland last spring. Kacey Musgraves returned ‘Golden Hour’, which she could have easily made in the same, alt country effort as ‘Same Trailer, Different Park’ and ‘Pageant Material’, but added disco, folk, and more to her arsenal of emotive and witty narratives. “Space Cowboy” and “High Horse” circled my mind nearly daily in 2018.
In the end, lists require selection of a single number one and 2018 belonged to Janelle Monae. It seems cliche to call Ms. Monae otherworldly at this stage in her career. Even though she ditched her android character on ‘Dirty Computer’, Monae’s music still seemed to be sent from the stars. Prince and Missy Eliot came to mind after an initial listen, but Janelle Monae’s fluidity and bouncing from singing to rapping is her own specialty. “Pynk” and “Make You Feel” were two of the catchiest records of the year with infectious production, earworm melodies, and layered lyrics that would make Prince blush.
Stream my entire Top Albums of 2018 playlist (with a few honorable mentions) on Spotify.