Disclaimer: This is a list of My Favorite Albums released in 2018. I’m sure there are many more “technically” better albums that were released this year, but they either a) missed my radar because they’re not in my preferred musical genre wheelhouse or b) were forgotten about by the date and time I’m writing this because it has been a. long. year. This music had the biggest impact on me. If you disagree that my choices are “the top,” that’s cool, but please be kind in suggesting why and/or requesting I listen to them.
Summer Pack – Childish Gambino
Are two songs an EP? Does an EP count as an album? Does two songs as an EP count as an album? I don’t know, which is why Childish Gambino’s Summer Pack, made up of the songs Feels Like Summer and Summertime Magic, is stuck in honorable mention territory.
In my writing experience, long-form essays and the like can be daunting, but by far the hardest thing to do is to condense a big idea into a concise piece of work while maintaining your own style. Donald Glover, as Childish Gambino, manages to capture the bigness, the etherealness, the magic and idealization, and somehow even the color(? maybe that’s just me) of summertime and boil it down into two songs.
And, I mean, when Rihanna posts an Instagram story of her sashaying through a plaza in Italy to one of your songs, you know you done good.
Venice Bitch – Lana del Rey
No new album from my favorite lady this year, but that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t still busy. She provided vocals for Jonathan Wilson’s Living With Myself, Børns’s God Save Our Young Blood and Blue Madonna, and Cat Power’s Woman. She also covered You Must Love Me for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s compilation album, Unmasked, and reworked a previously unreleased song, Elvis, for the documentary The King.
And to top it all off, she dropped two singles from an upcoming album (Norman Fucking Rockwell): Mariners Apartment Complex and Venice Bitch.
Venice Bitch, clocking in at 9 minutes and 36 seconds, is a BIG MOOD. A big Lana mood. Like the endless highways in the music video, Venice Bitch becomes almost hypnotic as you listen to it. It feels as though we’re going through Lana’s complete discography up to this point, but like we’re hearing it through the deep blue mood she promised us in Get Free, the last song on Lust for Life. And it’s that feeling that has me so excited for her next album.
5. Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne
Favorite song: Dedicate
Standout lyrics, from Dark Side of the Moon (feat. Nicki Minaj):
She’s not at all impressed with the flames or the flickers
But take her for a walk on the moon as you wear slippers
The end of the world is coming soon, I won’t miss it
The sky is falling down, I am falling for her quicker
This album sounds like 2014. It sounds like when it was supposed to be released. I don’t say that to imply it’s passé; I obviously still see it as a good and relevant collection of songs. But, to somewhat contradict myself, if this album had come out in 2014, I just don’t think it would’ve been as good. Having those years in between, Wayne is able to showcase how he’s kept the best parts of Tha Carters I-IV while also exhibiting the growth he experienced during what pitchfork.com calls “the four most trying years of his career.” So even though some songs are up to 4 years old, with others finished just this year, the album doesn’t feel like it’s jerking the listener around. Rather, it feels like a culmination of the power, versatility, and passion we’ve come to expect from Wayne tossed in with the vulnerability that comes from his past few years of personal and professional chaos.
4. Isolation by Kali Uchis
Favorite song: After the Storm
Standout lyrics, from Nuestro Planeta:
Hola, ¿me recuerdas? Hi, do you remember me?
Era yo a la que tanto querías It was me you wanted so much
Dame esta noche entera Give me this whole night
Que seamos sóló tú y yo Let us be just you and me
(aquí en nuestro planeta, (here on our planet,
aquí en nuestro planeta) here on our planet)
I was going to start off this section about Kali Uchis’s debut studio album with “I’d call her the new ___, but…” but, honestly there’s no one to compare her to. No one I’ve heard anyway. The best I can come up with is with how her voice becomes light at times, while still keeping her low pitch and easy cadence, is in a way reminiscent of one of my old jazz faves, Billie Holiday.
This album is intimate in a way I don’t hear much anymore but that I really love. Listening to it, I felt like I was sitting in a beach-side bungalow with Kali as she wrote out the lyrics then plucked out the accompanying music on a guitar, piano, what have you. Vibrant and lush with a groovy Miami aura, Isolation is packed with hit after hit after hit and I am so here for it.
3. Sweetener by Ariana Grande
Favorite song: The Light is Coming (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Standout lyrics, from breathin:
Feel my blood runnin’, swear the sky’s fallin’
I know that all this shit’s fabricated
Time goes by and I can’t control my mind
Sweet, sweet Ari. This album came and woke me up like a sunbeam right in the eye. This album IS what all pop music should be. While there are definitely some bops on it, it doesn’t shy away from diving into deeper emotions. After all, how could it? It’s her first album to come out since the bombing at her Manchester concert and, in a way, shows exactly who Grande is as a result of that tragedy. Sure, she could’ve gotten heavy-handed after such an ordeal but, given her personality, I’m inclined to think that would’ve come across as pandering. Instead, Grande points us to the lighter side (or, if you will, the sweeter side) of life, letting the low-key joy of the title track radiate throughout the album.
2. Primal Heart by Kimbra
Favorite song: Top of the World
Standout lyrics, from Black Sky:
Tonight I’ve got my eyes on you
I’m seeing the constellations
When I get afraid I shut down
Look for a way to run around the truth
But Baby tonight I’m made of gold for you
Under the light of the silver half-moon
Cause you’ll only really seem me when the sun goes down
You’ll only really know me when I fall apart
I’m disappointed in myself for not seeking Kimbra’s music out sooner. And I’m a little bit ashamed to admit that it did take me so long to do so. We all know her from Gotye’s Somebody I Used to Know, and when that first came out I did take a deep Gotye dive. But, for some reason, I never came back around to Kimbra until this year when I was looking for another song to throw on my Versailles-inspired playlist.
I put her name in the Spotify search bar and the song that caught my attention was a recent release featuring Snoop Dogg, Top of the World. And it. captivated. me.
(The album version does not feature Snoop Dogg but is just as good.)
The album, overall, is incredibly strong. It’s balanced, it’s gratifying, it utilizes several pop trends while still sounding fresh. And the electro-pop sound serves as the perfect canvas for Kimbra’s gorgeous vocal range.
1. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Favorite song: Americans
Standout lyrics, from Stevie’s Dream:
Even when you’re upset, use words of love
Cause God is love
Allah is love
Jehovah is love
So don’t let your expressions
even of anger
Be confused or misconstrued
Turn them into words of expression
That can be understood by using words of love
Y’all already know. Of course Janelle is my #1. How can an album called Dirty Computer, written for fandroids, still come across so fucking human? Harmonically lush, this album is coming to terms with and, ultimately, a celebration of being a part of “the other.” In Monáe’s own words:
“Songs one, two, three, four—that’s the reckoning. That’s you feeling the sting of being called nigger for the first time by a white person. Feeling the sting of being called bitch by a man for the first time. Feeling the sting of being called queer or a faggot by homophobic people. It’s reckoning and dealing with what it means to be called a Dirty Computer.”
…and from a Rolling Stone interview:
“I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you. This album is for you. Be proud.”
Her influences are on display with this album – Keith Haring, David Bowie, and most notably, Prince – but it doesn’t come across as any less her and, tangentially, anyone who’s felt like her, like a dirty computer. The precise songwriting is nearly flawless and the funky pop rhythms that carry the lyrics are technically impressive. And I’m inclined to agree once again with pitchfork.com that, “Dirty Computer is what happens when a prism is held to the blinding light of a free Janelle Monáe.”