The Top 10 Albums of 2018—So Far
From the guitar-forward indie rock revival of Snail Mail’s Lush to the high-concept power pop of Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer to Kali Uchis’ democratic genre sampling on Isolation, her debut effort, 2018 has been a banner year for female and female-identifying artists. (It’s worth mentioning that, while we decided not to include her on this list in order to provide exposure to artists who may not have that Louboutin money yet, Cardi B has been knocking records down one after another.)
Here, eight months into 2018, we’ve rounded up our top 10 albums of the year—so far. We believe that they exemplify innovation, exciting new directions, and, in some cases, good old-fashioned song craft. However, we’re still holding out hope for new LPs by Carly Rae Jepsen and Noname before January. - KF
Snail Mail – Lush
Lindsey Jordan confronts knotty teenage problems in her powerful debut album as Snail Mail, untangling them with the help of guitar riffs that range from dreamy to ferocious. She sings with a 19-year-old’s conviction, but her secret weapon is her ability to put things into perspective. (Her guitar skills—she was trained classically, and has been playing since she was five—don’t hurt.) Songs like “Pristine” and “Let’s Find An Out” showcase her gift for deceptively simple lyrics, snapshots of moments where so much is lurking beneath the surface.
Jordan and her contemporaries are being heralded as “the future of indie rock”, and that may certainly be true, but Lush drives home the importance of enjoying the moment at hand. You’re only 19 once. - KF
Petal – Magic Gone
What sets Kiley Lotz apart from some of her more punk- and indie-influenced contemporaries is an unabashed willingness to let her music be beautiful. A piano player by training, Lotz crafts melodies that can sometimes scan as just shy of sentimental, but in her careful hands and with the help of her crystal-clear voice, they become transcendent.
Magic Gone, her second album under the Petal moniker, came after a painful and transformative three-year period in her life—she came out as queer, underwent treatment for mental health issues, and moved back to her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s an honest and vulnerable document, but more than that, it’s a distillation of the heady feeling of coming into your own power. - KF
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
There’s no precedent for Janelle Monae, a fact that works both for and against her. Dirty Computer, her newest LP, is a rambunctious, infectiously fun trip of an album, and while it’s been (accurately) hailed as her most personal record to date, her perennial themes—or masks—of identity and what it means to be human are never far from view. Her fans are die-hard loyal and she’s a critical darling, but that hasn’t translated into strong chart performance before now, three records into her career (Dirty Computer debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart.)
Chart performance aside, what makes Dirty Computer so transcendent is, truly, the sound of Janelle Monae coming into her own in the most honest and true way possible. The “emotion picture” accompanying the album allows Monae to create an allegory about queerness and otherness, a beautiful exploration of the ways in which minorities are policed and oppressed—and the ways in which they thrive anyway. - KF
Kali Uchis – Isolation
24-year-old Kali Uchis has lived out of her car, an experience she references on her debut album Isolation, but she is never bitter when drawing on her past—she knows it’s where her power comes from. Inspired by doo-wop, soul, and R&B, Uchis worked with a myriad of talented collaborators, including Damon Albarn of Gorillaz, Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, to craft Isolation, a tight, polished and expansive exploration of love and modern womanhood.
Isolation is rife with bangers, but particular standouts include “Miami”, featuring rapper BIA, a languid dreamscape of a song that unfolds against the backdrop of that neon-colored city; “Your Teeth In My Neck”, about exploitation and the many forms it can take; and “Feel Like A Fool”, a joyful-sad Amy Winehouse-style doo-wop tune that vocalizes the sting of betrayal. Uchis is a promising new talent, and we’ll follow her wherever she leads us next. - KF
Camp Cope - How to Socialise & Make Friends
The opening bassline of Camp Cope’s sophomore album feels like it belongs in an early aughts emo anthem. What follows in “The Opener” (the aptly-named first track) is a scathing critique of a sexist music scene rife with double standards. Since their 2016 debut album, the Australian trio has been outspoken about gender disparities and sexual assault prevention in the music industry. With How to Socialise & Make Friends, they trudge deeper into themes that are culturally significant and deeply personal: consent, sexual assault, faith, family, loss. Lead singer/guitarist Georgia “Maq” McDonald lays vulnerable, seething vocals over a roiling rhythm section (bassist Kelly-Dawn “Kelso” Hellmich and drummer Sarah “Thomo” Thompson) like a heart racing just below the surface. The result is a feminist punk album befitting 2018—relatable and gutting. - ML
Kississippi – Sunset Blush
Kississippi (possibly the first band ever formed on Tinder) was started in 2014 as the indie folk project of Zoë Reynolds and Colin Kupson. Sunset Blush is the first full-length album under the name and marks the solo evolution of Reynolds, who claimed the Kississippi name for herself in 2016. Where the previous EPs were spectral and heavy, Sunset Blush is airy, uplifting, and more electric, with Reynolds’ signature songwriting style on full display. Her lyrics are stunningly poetic in a catchy indie pop package. Instrumentally, the album does not shy away from depth. From synths to keyboards and even a cello accompaniment on “Shamer,” there’s a subtle balance of layered complexity and lightness that is magnetic. Overall, these enchanting songs will lodge deep in your brain and fill your dreams with alluring metaphors and Reynolds’ radiant voice. - ML
Tierra Whack – Whack World
22-year-old Philadelphia MC Tierra Whack crafts a dazzling, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sonic journey on Whack World. Each song on the 15-track album is only a minute long, and every one is such a perfect gem that when it ends, despite the seamless transition into the next, you’ll be left wishing it had been about three minutes longer.
Released in tandem with a 15-minute film that centers surreal and sometimes chilling visuals, Whack World places value on both big, life-altering ideas and brevity. “Fruit Salad” explores eating healthy food and staying hydrated as a form of resistance, and “Dr. Seuss” is a reflective and clever vignette about growing pains and becoming oneself. “You say you fly, but you never flew,” she admonishes a friend or lover. By the time Whack World wraps up, despite its brief run time, you feel as though you have a clearly sketched and filled-in picture of who Whack is, where she’s going and what she desires. - KF
U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
In a Poem Unlimited is a narratively complex and politically heavy album, but if you first heard it in the background at a party (and, make no mistake, it is great party music), it’s unlikely you would pick up on those themes at all. On the surface, this album, the ninth from Toronto-based American artist Meg Remy under this name, is a fun, danceable, rock-tinged disco pop experience. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a subterranean pool of anger bubbling just beneath the polished surface.
Remy shapes each of the narratives of In a Poem Unlimited’s 11 tracks with bell-clear, emotive vocals, tackling issues from chemically-caused infertility (“Rage of Plastics”) to Barack Obama as yet another symbol of male oppression and totalitarianism (“M.A.H.”). Remy’s idea is that pop music can be used as a kind of spoonful of sugar to make her political ideas go down easier, and with In a Poem Unlimited, she has succeeded. It’s the Halloween candy with a hidden razor blade your parents warned you about as a child, and it sounds like nothing else released this year. - KF
Half Waif – Lavender
Brooklyn-based Nandi Rose Plunkett crafts emotionally raw piano- and synth-based music as Half Waif, and Lavender, her third full-length under this moniker, is a work that somehow manages to be honest and lush, innovative and familiar. There’s loneliness here, reflected in songs like “Silt” (“My love is like an island, you can’t find it if you’re not trying”), existential angst, and conflict, but Plunkett faces it all fearlessly, armed with adventurously innovative melodies and the sharp scalpel of her lyric-writing.
Despite its heaviness, Lavender is not a hopeless album—Plunkett finds solace in her family, and in the self-definition that comes with articulating one’s deepest and darkest feelings about love and loss. Her instrumentals pulse and loop back in on themselves, incorporating Auto-Tuned vocals and anxious, jittering synths. It’s a brave work, made all the more audacious for its vulnerability. - KF
Tirzah – Devotion
The world of Tirzah’s Devotion can sometimes feel hermetically sealed, a space apart from the chaos outside. “Do you know, the silent treatment don’t stop me buggin’,” she admonishes on “Do You Know”, a track that can, at times, sound like a record stuck on loop. The minimalist songcraft and intentional glitchiness found throughout the album only serve to make the emotions expressed on Devotion all the more poignant and underscored.
In collaboration with her longtime musical partner, British composer and producer Mica Levi, Tirzah Mastin spins out beautifully minimalistic tracks on this follow-up 2015’s Make It Up EP. Devotion marks a new direction for Mastin; it’s less reminiscent of a club than a dark, quiet bedroom with the shades drawn. Songs like “Affection” are flat-out gorgeous, centering sparse piano chords and Mastin’s rich, low voice, while the more synth-and-beat-centric “Basic Need” sounds like it was plucked directly from 90’s R&B (not coincidentally, the era when Mastin and Levi first started collaborating). - KF