As I said in my Worst Albums of 2018 post, 2018 was a good year for music if you knew where to look. Relying on the charts will only make you depressed. Fine tuning your music taste and finding releases based on that is the only way to go.
To make my list, the album had to have been released this year. That eliminates some great albums I’ve been jamming to by icons like Queen and Fleetwood Mac. Since 2018 was the first year I really listened to their full discography, they count as new to me. The problem is that would make this list impossible to narrow down. Just know that my favorite Fleetwood Mac album is Rumours and I still haven’t decided my favorite Queen record.
I’ve liked many albums that came out this year, but these five albums are a cut above the rest. I’ll also be discussing three fantastic EPs that were released this year in my honorable mentions. I don’t like to hold shorter projects to the same standard as full bodies of work. It doesn’t seem fair.
The votes have been counted and it’s time to kick off my best lists. It’s award season, bitches! And these are my Top 5 Albums of 2018:
- High Maintenance by Saweetie (Released March 16, 2018)
I may have given off the impression that I don’t like rap music. I’ve been largely critical whenever I’ve discussed the genre on my blog. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. While it’s by no means my favorite, I love a good rap song. Fortunately for me, that’s all Saweetie makes.
In a sea of depressing trap rap and overly braggadocios MCs, Saweetie shines like the goddamn diamond she is. I won’t pretend I know anything about flow, but I do know when someone’s delivery sounds good. And Saweetie’s delivery is impeccable. She pulls off brag rap in an endearing way.
This is likely because she acknowledges where she came from. Her bragging comes across as “I told you I’d be successful” rather than “I’m awesome and rich and you’re not.” She’s not flaunting her riches— she’s flaunting the fact that she proved her detractors wrong.
Okay, so she does flaunt her riches a little. She is the Icy Grl, after all. But because she’s rooted in reality, it doesn’t feel condescending. Hell, the title track is about buying stuff for her mom. If she wants to show off and be a big shot, I’m totally fine with letting her.
Saweetie also tackles topics like the sort of men she doesn’t fuck with anymore (“B.A.N.”) and the sort of men she does (“Respect”). She knows what she deserves and won’t settle for less. It’s inspiring. This is the sort of bad bitch attitude we should be promoting. She’s worked for what she got and knows her worth. She doesn’t need to resort to tearing down her peers to prove it.
Moreover, these beats are straight fire. I don’t know much about production, except to be able to point out when it sounds good. I haven’t bumped this hard to a beat in a long time. Props to everyone involved in the making of this record.
My only complaint is the length. Not only is the album is only nine tracks long, but many of the songs themselves are disappointingly short. Many outlets qualify this body of work as an EP, so that would explain a few things. As far as I’m concerned, a collection with eight or nine tracks crosses the line into LP. Plus, I wrote this before I saw articles calling it an EP. So… yeah.
I appreciate Saweetie avoiding repetition by not padding her album and songs with filler. It’s admirable that she says only what she needs to say, when so many rappers won’t just stick to the point. But her songs are so good, I want there to be more.
If you’re a fan of rap, you need to put yourself on to Saweetie. We need to make her as big as her contemporaries, if not bigger. If you don’t like rap, I still suggest you give her a chance. Don’t close yourself off to an excellent artist because of bias. Saweetie can boss me around all day long, if this is what being high maintenance means to her.
- Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko (Released March 30, 2018)
Though 2018 has brought me further and further away from pop, I still love a good pop record. In comes Hayley Kiyoko with her long-awaited debut album. Perhaps, being a lesbian, I was predisposed to love this album. But I like to think I’m not that easily won over.
I fully acknowledge the level of relatability on these songs is a huge factor in how much I love them. I also really like feeling seen. It’s monumental for a mainstream pop artist to sing explicitly about women, to unabashedly use she/her pronouns. Yes, there have been songs about same-sex experimentation, but it’s not the same. This is a young woman proudly declaring this is who she is. It’s powerful.
All that said, relatability doesn’t necessarily equal quality. It’s got to have something to back it up. And Expectations has that in spades. Musically and lyrically, it’s both catchy and authentic. Kiyoko’s vocals are sweet and plaintive. Besides being one of the most important albums of 2018, this record is a win for pop music.
“Feelings,” one of my favorite songs of the year, is pop perfection. Though mid-tempo, it’s got an irresistible underlying beat that pushes the song forward. Vocally, this is her best performance on the album. Everything about this song is peak Hayley Kiyoko.
“What I Need” is a beautiful duet with Kehlani, and an incredibly potent track. Their chemistry is magnetic. “Curious” is sassy and flirty, a deep bassline propelling the song forward.
“Wanna Be Missed” is a genius amalgamation of mid-tempo pop and EDM. “He’ll Never Love You (HNLY)” is upbeat with a compelling narrative. The interludes and two-song tracks are ravishingly atmospheric.
Expectations is an absolute triumph. The genius of this album begins at the title itself. The word “expectations” holds different meanings based on the album subject matter. Kiyoko has expectations on how relationships should be; the girl she’s with feels the pressure to live up to the expectations of a heteronormative society. The amount of thought and meaning put into every aspect of this album is astonishing. Expectations vastly exceeds my expectations.
- Church of Scars by Bishop Briggs (Released April 20, 2018)
Church of Scars was probably my most anticipated album of the year. I’ve been a fan of Briggs’ since “River” and got to see her live (twice!) in 2017. I needed this album like I need air. In April 2018, it was finally here. And, let me tell you, listening to this album is a religious experience.
Briggs works largely with a Christian motif. Iconic imagery and concepts from the Bible are used to highlight and parallel her relationship. It’s a secular look into Christianity. However, this motif doesn’t overpower the album. It’s a well-balanced idea that pairs well with the bombastic production.
Briggs ingeniously pairs real instruments with synths and midi instruments, each one enhancing the other. Her rich, soulful growl of a voice dominates every track, a powerful statement. If Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” were a person, it would be Bishop Briggs.
I don’t even know that I could pick a favorite song on this record. Each one causes an emotional reaction in me. “Wild Horses” is the song that truly made me fall in love with Briggs. Part acoustic, part synthesizer, this song packs a punch. And, despite the thunder of the production, Bishop’s voice stays calm, cool, and collected. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition.
But other songs strike me just as deep. “Hallowed Ground” uses piano, organ, and heavy snaps to keep the song grounded, while a synthesizer gives it a funky twist. The utter anguish in Bishop’s voice as she sings “Water” is enough to bowl you over. It’s easily one of Bishop’s best written and performed songs.
“Hi-Lo (Hollow)” is strangely sensual, despite being about a dysfunctional relationship. Briggs’ voice is silken and smooth, the wordplay ingenious. “Tempt My Trouble” has an irresistible bassline that stands as a satisfying parallel to Bishop’s deep voice.
Briggs takes some creative risks on Church of Scars that really help enhance her sound. She truly established herself as a unique artist with this record. It’s a damn spiritual awakening. I may be a godless heathen, but Bishop Briggs’ church is one to which I’m happy to belong.
- Liberation by Christina Aguilera (Released June 15, 2018)
Once again, you’re probably sitting there ready to call me out for my bias. I’ve loved Christina Aguilera since I was a child. But that doesn’t mean I’ve loved all her music. Bionic, despite having arguably the best ballads of her career, is a trainwreck. So, as eagerly as I anticipated Liberation, I knew it could still let me down.
Obviously, it did not. This album is an updated Stripped, an exposition of Aguilera’s soul sixteen years later. Where Stripped allowed her to share her truth, Liberation is a return to her true self. In format and intent, these albums stand as bookends to a decade and a half of trials and tribulations.
Both bodies of work are simultaneously strong and vulnerable in a way the rest of her discography isn’t. Sometimes this makes Liberation’s songs feel like B-sides to Stripped’s. “Masochist” is the catchier but less raw version of “Walk Away,” while “Accelerate” is a less brassy and shocking “Dirrty.”
However, Liberation also raises the bar in ways Stripped didn’t. “Fall in Line” is a grandiose, empowering anthem for women, where “Can’t Hold Us Down” was a splash in the pan. A bop, sure, but not the declaration its successor is.
Aguilera speaks from a place of experience and maturity on this record. She’s known love and loss, but is still willing to go through it all again. She knows who she is and she doesn’t have to make a loud statement to get that across.
Aguilera’s vocals are better than ever and she explores her full range over the course of the album. All the while, she contemplates the pros and cons of the life she’s lived and the person she’s become. Whether she’s exploring a dysfunctional relationship in “Deserve” or celebrating the man who knows how to please her in “Right Moves,” Christina commits and delivers.
Liberation is extremely listenable and self-aware. Aguilera experiments with sounds, but still manages to pull together a sonically cohesive record. “Like I Do” acknowledges Christina’s sexual reputation (and experience); “Twice” asserts itself as one of her best ballads to date; “Maria” is an honest look until finding yourself again; “Sick of Sittin’” is a vicious growl of a song; “Pipe” is smooth and sensual, perhaps her sexiest song to date.
I would recommend Liberation based on Aguilera’s duet with Demi Lovato alone. (Okay, maybe I am a little biased, but I still think that’s one of the best songs of the year.) Aguilera is emotive and raw on this album, her insecurities and hopes on display. She embraces her sexuality and experiments with her voice and sound more than she has in years. As it did for Aguilera herself, this album will set you free.
- Love Monster by Amy Shark (Released July 13, 2018)
If any album on this list is the definitive best album of 2018, it’s this one. I am obsessed with it. I’ve come back to it more than any other album this year, new or otherwise. Amy Shark captured lightning in a bottle when she made this record.
In the past, I’ve described her sound as Alanis Morissette meets Lorde. But this doesn’t mean Shark isn’t original— on the contrary, the frank honesty in her lyrics betray her individuality. I absolutely can’t get enough of her voice, her lyrics, or her sound.
Shark’s vocals hit similar beats as Morissette’s, but also sound very unique. Even though she’s a pop-leaning alternative artist, she sounds like an utter rock star in some of the highlight moments on the album. “Psycho” ends with emphatic screams, the emotion raw and vulnerable. “You Think I Think I Sound Like God” was made to be performed in a stadium, an utter rock anthem in its own right. Five minutes long and one of my favorites of the year, this song is a journey unto itself.
Every song on this record makes me feel something so powerful, whether that be joy or the agonizing ability to relate. “I Said Hi” is almost unbearably honest, while “Don’t Turn Around” is heartachingly wistful. “Mess Her Up” dabbles in EDM, while also dubiously queer.
Shark is a shining talent, a veritable diamond in the rough. The clever way she balances real instruments with synths and beat drops is a revelation. Love Monster has no skips and each song offers something new every time you listen.
I could go on and on about how much I love this album. It’s real, it’s raw, and it’s filled with bangers. If Amy Shark doesn’t blow up within the next year, then I’m sending a sharknado to tear down the entire industry.
- Ann by The Front Bottoms (Released May 18)
Despite being merely an EP, Ann may very well be The Front Bottoms’ best release yet. It’s on the rock & roll end of the alternative spectrum and is easily the brothers’ most emotionally potent body of work. And it’s no surprise this EP is rife with emotion and nostalgia— it tackles themes of mental illness, dealing with the past, and surviving ex-girlfriends. The emotions are raw and relatable, the lyrics the perfect sort of specific.
Even though this EP is a bit of a departure for the band, Ann still retains much of their folksy sound. It features some of their best songs to date. Whether a new track or a rerecording of an old demo, every song is a tour de force. I can’t wait to hear what The Front Bottoms’ next album will sound like, no matter what— or whom— it’s named after.
- Make My Bed by King Princess (Released June 15)
This EP is blissful and soft, alternative pop at its finest. King Princess’ voice is smooth and emotive, and her lyrics make you feel warm inside. Even when the song is sad, you can’t help but feel safe and happy listening to it. Each song exposes something not only about King Princess’ relationships, but about King Princess herself. She’s dominant, but also a hopeless romantic.
I could not be more ecstatic that I’ll be seeing her live in 2019. King Princess is a sapphic phenom. As soon as she’s done making her bed, I hope she makes a full LP.
- THIS IS A COPING MECHANISM FOR A BROKEN HEART by Flint Eastwood (Released October 25)
This collection is everything Tove Lo’s Blue Lips wanted to be sonically. It follows Flint Eastwood through a relationship and breakup. With collaborations from several lesser-known artists, this EP is a true passion project.
Flint Eastwood is another sapphic artist that does not disappoint. I am beyond psyched to see what she has in store for her first full-length album. But, until it’s announced, I’ll just have to find a way to cope.
Do you agree with my list? What were some of your favorite albums of 2018? Tell me about them in the comments!
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