Another year down, another top albums list from yours truly rounding out the last week of January, right. on. schedule!
It’s been a year for the books, and by that I mean if you were reading books instead of listening to music in 2018, you were probably doing yourself a favor. Apart from a GENERATIONAL release from Cardi B, 2018 was a bit of a snoozefest for albums. I was a huge fan of all the records you’ll find below, but this year I was noticing a quality drop off around #5 that usually lands around #15.
I feel like I’ve said the same exact thing in lists past, but a quieter year for music gives me even more motivation to go through this process. In 2018, there weren’t a lot of truly great albums, but a plethora of truly good ones if you were willing to look. I’m proud to highlight some albums here that I didn’t find on anyone else’s lists, a lot of unheralded releases from super-talented young artists writing impeccable songs, if not reinventing the wheel.
A few random musings before we jump into it, including a long rant on Ariana Grande, so if you’re not interested, feel free to skip right to all the pretty album art below.
– Super thrilled to confirm that indie rock’s disappearing act in 2017 was an aberration. For those of you who sometimes grumble – this is not an all-hip-hop list. While it was a bit of a bummer to see hip-hop regress a bit to the mean after several years in a row stuffed with instant classics, 2018 felt a lot more equitable genre-wise. I was especially thrilled to hear some of my favorite bands like Sunflower Bean, Kero Kero Bonito, and Parquet Courts truly come into their own, as well as a smattering of brand new artists pumping new life into the genre. Oh, and Beach House still has it.
– Two female rappers in the top ten – can we get off this Highlander shit once and for all?
– Will you all PLEASE listen to this Christina Aguilera album and explain to me why nobody else ranked it? This is no lie the best album of her career and nobody is talking about it.
– I just turned 30 this month, and while everybody I know has been dismissing my fear that this makes me immediately uncool…. this year’s list includes albums from Albert Hammond, Jr., two arguably-Adult Contemporary records I’m really into (Molly Burch, Jorja Smith), and at least four ’90s divas (Xtina, Mariah, Beyonce via The Carters, and Robyn). So 🤷
To address the elephants in the room:
No Mitski. Be The Cowboy, kinda boring. Puberty 2 was so much better. This is a thing that I see happen in music frequently, where critics will feel so strongly that a talented artist hasn’t gotten their due that they shower their current, lackluster release with the praise and accolades they secretly wish they had given to a previous record. See also: Ariana Grande this year, tune-yards’s Nikki Nack, St. Vincent’s 2014 self-titled, etc etc.
No Janelle Monae. This might be a hot take, but Monae gets away with a LOT of corny ass shit by being so fabulous all the time. Just because she has impeccable taste in fashion and art, we let so much corny music slide! If someone half as cool as Monae had made Dirty Computer, we’d be laughing at it. This record is corny as fuck. (But she’s still ultra-talented, so when she chooses to write a hit, it’s a motherfucking hit — “Pynk”, “I Like That”, and “Don’t Judge Me” are all diamonds sticking out of a block of gouda.)
I alluded to it earlier, but no Ariana Grande. Some of you have heard this rant from me before, but allow me to immortalize it here for those who have not — I have long been a stan for Ariana. In 2014, I gave her the top spot in my albums list and my songs list, and I even made a separate post for the Top Ten Ariana Grande Songs of 2014. What dazzled me so much about Ariana then, and continued to dazzle me up until this year, was her unparalleled ability to make hits in quantity and quality. As a pop obsessive who knows how collaborative the process is, I like to study who’s behind the hits I love, and for Ariana, nearly every single song of hers that has made me jump out my skin was written and produced by some combination of super-producer Max Martin, American songwriter Savan Kotecha, and Swedish songwriter ILYA. “Problem”, “One Last Time”, “Break Free”, and “Love Me Harder” on 2014’s My Everything. Seven of the 11 tracks on 2016’s Dangerous Woman, including the title track, “Side By Side”, “Into You”, and “Let Me Love You”. And the trio were back to contribute on five tracks of this year’s Sweetener, including “God is a Woman”, “Breathin”, and my favorite, “no tears left to cry”.
For a pop star of the modern era to have such a consistent sound, a voice uniquely her own, is practically unheard of. And this is basically why – nobody does this. Nobody sticks with the same songwriting team for so long with such sustained success. Teams behind pop artists spend a great deal of energy trying to absorb what they see as the emerging trends, what’s hot right now, and then try to shoehorn it into this year’s version of whatever persona they’ve already built for their star. Very few will try to capture the sound of “now” themselves, and when they do, all of a sudden labels seem to have a hard time putting their records out (see Grimes, Charli XCX).
Thing is though, Ariana Grande et al have been doing it for years. So imagine my surprise and disappointment when five years after the release of My Everything, every music publication is congratulating Ariana for finally “coming into her own” and “finding her voice” on Sweetener…. by hiring the mega-trendy, unexpected comeback-producer-of-the-year Pharrell fucking Williams to turn a solid HALF of her new album into that shitty “bouncing around” Rihanna song from last year. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the Pharrell of the early 00s, but his current brand of bouncy percussion with the bubble pops and pitched-up bass drums is a veritable scourge on pop music and it cannot go away fast enough. Get your gross breath sounds off my Ariana record you old-ass, Marvin-lifting, dumb-hat-wearing motherfucker.
I’m hopeful this is a mere aberration for Ariana — and it seems to be, with the credits of 2019’s upcoming thank u, next appearing to be full of my favorite trio and devoid of Pharrell. It’s just extremely disappointing to see an old rich dude get credit for creating a “breakout” moment for a young woman who has been absolutely killing the game for half a decade without him (ESPECIALLY when the album’s biggest hits still had nothing to do with him). Oh, and I guess the point I was trying to get to is — Sweetener didn’t make the list. Awful production from Pharrell is the reason why.
That’s all the ranting I have for you today! On with the list. As always you can listen to the whole thing on Spotify here or stream below. Please argue with me on social media about what you think!
1. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
2. Playboi Carti – Die Lit
3. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
4. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse
5. The Carters – EVERYTHING IS LOVE
6. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
7. Her’s – Invitation to Her’s
8. Tierra Whack – Whack World
9. Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD
10. Beach House – 7