10. Father John Misty – “God’s Favorite Customer”
Originally, I didn’t want to put this on my list. It feels a little easy and a little lazy. It’s not his best album. It’s no, “Honeybear.” It’s not the cohesive vision of the rambling “Pure Comedy.” It felt like a bit like damage control for an ego gone too far.
But damn it, we’re not putting this against his previous work, we’re talking about the top albums of 2018 and I think even his third best album as an artist stands up as a top 10 album of the year. His writing is still brilliant. It’s not one “concept” that we can write a million thought pieces on, but “Mr. Tillman” feels like the re-birth of gonzo journalism in one song and who can compete with lines like, “What would it sound like if you were the songwriter and you made your living off of me?” If nothing else, this album is in the top ten for the way it sounds alone. Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen) Trevor Spencer, Dave Cerminara, and of course Tillman himself, use the studio to build massive highs, crushing lows and a full orchestra of drama.
It’s the kind of album that changes with every listen. Which makes you want to listen again and again and again.
9. U.S. Girls – “A Poem Unlimited”
At South By Southwest this year there was a buzz in the air after night one. “Did you see U.S. Girls?” “Did you see U.S. Girls?” “Did you see U.S. girls?” From every person. At the end of day four I think I had seen the band five times. They were a band that looked like a band. The keyboardist in a paisley smoking jacket, the bassist wasn’t wearing a shirt at all, and Meghan Remy, with those piercing blue eyes. After seeing them for the fourth time I saw her going into a show at Mohawk and I introduced myself and said something about them being my favorite act of the festival. She looked me up and down with those piercing eyes and spat, “So play my song on your station.” We did. It’s great. The whole album is.
8. Adrianne Lenker – “abysskiss”
When this album came out I listened to the whole thing twice a day, every day, for two weeks straight.
7. Kamasi Washington – “Heaven and Earth”
With “The Epic,” Kamasi Washington left his mark as the greatest jazz musician of this generation. With “Heaven and Earth,” I think he really reached his truest form. The use of vocalization as a instrument itself running through this album pulled together all the instruments on this album and rose them in unison as if ascending to heaven itself. Put this album on in your living room and by minute 45 you might find yourself lifted off the ground.
6. Lorde Fredd33 – “NORF: The Legend of Hotboy Ronald”
Lorde Fredd33 has a voice that is about one octave deeper than it should be. You can hear it in the opening track on “NORF,” “Sanctified.” The octave is not natural. It’s an octave that was taken away. From what sounds like years of cigarette smoke, booze, having to talk over others, a lifetime of experience in Milwaukee. “NORF” the album and the attitude are about that experience. A lifetime of life on the North Side, taken in and given out in song. The beauty of NORF lives in that missing octave. That’s the space in which Lorde Fredd33 found his voice.
5. Mitski – “Be the Cowboy”
Mitski is friendship. Mitski is love. Mitski is determination. Mitski is fighting through. Mitski is the chip on your shoulder. Mitski is dancing in a room by yourself. Mitski is listening to this album with your friend at two in the morning after telling each other some things that you were uncomfortable to even tell yourself. Mitski is crying on the phone while talking to your mom. Mitski is physically running down the street at the swell of “Geyser.” Mitski is accomplishment in the face of adversity. Mitski is two slow dancers, last ones out. Mitski is everything. Mistski is 2018.
4. Superorganism – “Superorganism”
I have the benefit of talking to a lot of my favorite artists. Orno, the lead singer of Superorganism told me that this band started when she was scrolling through videos on Youtube after she left her home in Japan to go to high school in Maine. She saw this band The Eversons on a suggested video, dug them, ended up seeing them when they were on tour in Tokyo, Facebook messaged them, met up, kept in contact, asked them to send her tracks, recorded vocals over those tracks in one afternoon, and Superorganism was born. On their debut they have explored how much fun a single band can sound on an album. That album is “Superorganism,”—ten songs of pure musical joy.
3. Snail Mail – “Lush”
Lindsey Jordan captures emotional weight of a person experiencing peak emotional weight. Listening to “Lush” is a reminder that you are capable of feeling that way too. When I was making this list I pulled out all the albums I bought in 2018. I planned on listening to a bunch but I just ended up listening to this one six times in a row.
2. Jeff Rosenstock – “POST-”
You don’t really love an album, unless you’ve found yourself on a treadmill at the Planet Fitness across from The Riverside with tears streaming down your face at 6 a.m. mouthing every word of “All This Useless Energy” with your headphone volume all the way up.
1. Lucy Dacus – “Historian”
There are so few albums in life that you end up connecting with on such a deep level, and there is so much music in the world, that it is really a miracle when find an album that consumes you. When “Historian” came out I listened to it and I liked it. Then a couple months went by. Then my friend ended up moving from St. Louis to Denver and she had to stop doing her weekly radio show, so I tuned in to her last broadcast and she played “Nightshift.” I remembered that I liked that song and listened again. And again. And again. I wrote down all the lyrics so I could memorize them. One day when I was doing laundry I left the laundromat so I could yell the last four lines at the top of my lungs in the parking lot. I’m sorry that this review process has gotten to be stories of me crying in weird places as I listen to my top five albums, but music is a deeply personal thing. I’m not sure that this is objectively the best album that anyone has released in 2018, but I know my life would be a little different had my friend not played it on her radio show and had I not listened again and again and again. Music is a weird thing and in a weird way it makes my life better. Even when it’s sad, or angry, or hey, even happy. Imagine that. This is the album that I liked the most in 2018.
1. Big Red Machine – “Big Reg Machine”
You know that saying “the right place at the right time”? That’s how I feel about this album. From the moment I heard these songs performed at the 2018 Eaux Claires Festival this summer, I knew this was gonna be something special. Listening to it takes me right back to the beautiful summer night in the woods, hearing this for the first time. I cried, it was so beautiful. It was magic then and still is now.
2. Arctic Monkeys – “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”
I’ve loved the Arctic Monkeys since my pal CJ introduced me to their first album and the track “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” back in 2006-ish. This new record takes a 180 degree turn from their last record, “AM”…where every song sounded like a great radio single. This is way less accessible and weird…like listening-to-a-lounge-act-from-outer-space weird. Dust off that leisure suit, pour yourself a snifter of something tasty and enjoy!
3. Robyn – “Honey”
She makes dancing your booty off to the saddest of songs seem natural. I really can’t think of any other artist with that ability, so I was VERY happy that Robyn finally released another solo record this year. It’s been eight years since her last one, and it was worth the wait.
4. The Decemberists – “I’ll Be Your Girl”
The Decemberists have been making music for 18 years and I’m not ashamed to admit….I didn’t get the genius of this band until I finally saw their show at The Riverside Theater this year. What a smart, funny, creative and super talented bunch of musicians! I get it now. I’m a fan for life, especially of this record.
5. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
She’s a one-of-a-kind talent that makes forward thinking, futuristic music. Janelle Monáe has got something to say on this record and I’m listening. The Prince vibes just add to the magic. Rumor has it the late, great Purple One was helping her figure out the sound and vibe of this record before he passed. No doubt “Make Me Feel” is one of my most played track of 2018.
6. Courtney Barnett – “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
Courtney Barnett is a poet….who just so happens to SHRED on a guitar. Her witty lyrics are good for my soul. This album makes me feel like I can conquer whatever comes my way.
7. Anderson .Paak – “Oxnard”
This man has a brain and he isn’t afraid to use it. Although some tracks are stronger than others, I find myself listening to this album every day and it’s only been out a few weeks. It sounds like the best g-funk meets ’90s hip-hop mix you could imagine.
8. Jungle – “For Ever”
Marvin Gaye meets disco with a dash of Bee Gees and a sprinkle of electronica. Maybe it’s cheating, but I can’t listen to this record without recalling the beautiful music videos that go along with each song. WATCH THEM…you will thank me later.
9. The Internet – “Hive Mind”
At home, Mr. Dori Zori is the DJ. He’s got great, eclectic taste in music and introduces me to a TON of new stuff all the time. If there was an award for “The Most Times I Asked…What Song is This?”… it would go to The Internet for this new record. Maybe it’s because there are sooo many talented artists in this collective, but I really enjoy the eclectic mix of jazz, blues, hip-hop, soul and R&B vibes. And Syd’s voice…am I right?!?
10. Justin Timberlake – “Man of the Woods”
The cool kids at Pitchfork said this album was a “misstep.” And while it isn’t super cohesive from front to back, I don’t care. The more I listened to it this year, the more I really enjoyed it. Haters gonna say it’s fake, but I think it’s SO. REAL.
1. Vaudou Game – “Otodi”
This dope outfit chopping up old African voodoo rhythms for a far more modern game has Togolese roots and a funk as fresh as their name. I expected “Otodi” to be a good album but it’s really so good that I couldn’t keep it off this list. It’s a modern masterpiece of African funk and dance music par excellence.
2. Rosalia – “El Mal Querer”
25-year-old Rosalia builds on her outstanding debut with an album that is flat out amazing. Taking the decidedly classical tendencies of Spanish Flamenco into a brave, new R&B inflected future is refreshing and fresh. She’s got style, she’s got class and her flamenco chops make her a sure bet to last.
3. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
Miss Monáe’s artistic genius defies any single definition and her third album is one of this year’s best for me. Janelle Monáe is a real gem with many facets; Josephine Baker, Stevie Wonder, Grace Jones and David Bowie stand out as influences, but if I were to read her fate in the cards, I’d say she’ll be remembered with the same reverence as her late mentor, Prince.
4. Kamasi Washington – “Heaven and Earth“
Kamasi Washington’s latest album is visionary, a sumptuous feast for your auric sphere. I did not grow up in Jazz’s prime but this might be the best jazz to come out during mine.
5. Khruangbin – “Con Todo El Mundo”
This Texas trio’s sound is rooted in classic soul and R&B and spiced real nice with psychedelic, dub and other global influences. Their sound is low-key in the way it unfolds and it grooves as it simmers to some sweet spots. For me, this was an album that I really didn’t dig right away, but when I really gave it space, it opened up a bit to the point that I liked it even more because I’d underrated it initially.
6. Lonnie Holley – “MITH”
One of 27 children, sold by a burlesque dancer for a pint of whisky, ending up in a child labour camp and surviving a terrible car accident: Lonnie Holley’s life is extraordinarly crazy—almost as if it’s been made up—but it is real indeed and his music is even more amazing because of, and perhaps in spite of it. “MITH” is a truly visionary trip through contemporary US politics, slavery, the cosmic order and the sheer joy of expression.
7. Ammar 808 – “Maghreb United”
Maghreb United is a wild ride; matching traditional sounds and rhythms of the Maghreb — the northwestern African countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco — with harsh electronic beats as a canvas to constantly criss-cross styles and sounds that don’t typically occupy the same space. Desert blues rhythms coexist with hard rave beats, Algerian raï, targ music from the Bargou valley in Tunisia and Moroccan gnawa, creating a sound that’s as raucous as it is alluring and illuminating.
8. DJ Koze – “Knock Knock”
French house meets German techno with left field hip-hop expression–DJ Koze is super dope. His last album was a best for me in 2013 and dude done did it again on “Knock Knock.” This album is warm and joyous and it just makes me feel good.
9. Polo & Pan – “Caravelle”
There’s something mesmerizing about electronic pop when it’s played well. This French group has all that and then some. Polo & Pan remind me of AIR, another French electro pop act — albeit with a bit more whimsy. It has a bossa at the beach vibe that makes me feel like I’m on a vacation…
10. Kadhja Bonet – “Childqueen”
There’s something so old-school about psych soul singer Kadhja Bonet’s album “Childqueen;” which is ironic given it’s topical and titular reverence of youth.
1. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – “Look Now”
At a point in his musical career when Elvis could have simply coasted into a graceful sunset, he went and made one of the most vital records he’s made in a decade—or three.
2. Kurt Vile – “Bottle It In”
Kurt inhabits his own comfy universe and so effortlessly creates music that owes no real stylistic debts to anyone. In the hands of anyone else the almost ten-minute “Bassackwards” would seem overly long and tedious, but in Kurt’s hands it’s not long enough.
3. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – “Hope Downs”
Because they’re an Aussie indie rock band, they tend to get a lot of Go-Betweens comparisons. I don’t disagree, but RBCF manage to sound uniquely themselves and it’s as if they recorded this album in 1987.
4. Interpol – “Marauder”
Just like their NYC brethren The Strokes, it’s hard to believe that Interpol’s blend of menace and precision didn’t exist before “Turn On The Bright Lights.” “Marauder” is a step or two beyond the darkness of the debut while not veering too far from what made them interesting.
5. Buffalo Tom – “Quiet & Peace”
Buff Toms had a great run in the late-’80s/early ’90s but never really broke up. Thirty years on, with careers not involving the fickle music industry, and kids to raise, they made a thoughtful and hooky as all get-out album that reflects those concerns. More please.
6. Phosphorescent – “C’est La Vie”
Matthew Houck made a confident and sonically rich album with enough space to breathe that it feels effortless.
7. Poster Children – “Grand Bargain”
Forgive them for the decade-plus lull between albums, Rick and Rose were busy raising their family and being college professors. They’re back, with plenty of ire and energy and with Albini recording the album, they’re in familiar sonic territory.
8. Courtney Barnett – “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
I don’t doubt for a second that Courtney suffers from “crippling self-doubt” at times but is so adroit at what she does that I’d almost hate to hear her confident side.
9. Paul McCartney – “Egypt Station”
Another legend with nothing to prove. Macca has hit a stride in the last decade without peer.
10. David Byrne – “American Utopia”
The album that launched the most ambitious tour of the year, “American Utopia” really came to life in the spartan live show. It was an already great album made even better by the visuals of the performance.
1. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
On “Dirty Computer,” Janelle creates an Afrofuturistic world that has no boundaries. She isn’t limited by stereotypes and genres. She created an album for outcasts and misfits—and the rest of the world not only has to accept it, but respect it.
2. The Internet – “Hive Mind”
The Internet is one of few outfits to push limits of what R&B can be. On “Hive Mind,” they break the rules on modern R&B by combining it with funk, jazz and electronic music to create a 21st century masterpiece. And The Internet’s front woman, Syd, is one of the most underrated artists in R&B.
3. Noname – “Room 25”
Noname is a hip-hop anomaly. If there was an equivalent to Bjork in hip-hop, she would be it. Her lyrics are smart, her flow his melodic and the music and beats are the perfect accompaniment, just like a perfect wine and cheese pairing. She is the future of hip-hop.
4. Georgia Anne Muldrow – “Overload”
On “Overload,” her 17th album since 2006, Georgia has come back from the future to show you what hip-hop, soul and blues will sound like but the music is still rooted in the pioneers who first created those genres. Now, if only Janelle Monáe and Georgia Anne Muldrow would collaborate on album, we would really get to see what the future will have in store for us. Maybe in 2019…
5. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings
Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven is taking the snobbery and elitism out of jazz. And by sound of his latest album, he doesn’t care if he ruffles any feathers doing it. His latest album was recorded in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and London, where he worked with jazz musicians who are pushing the genre forward like rising saxophonist Nubya Garcia and harpist Brandee Younger. Makaya incorporated the jazz scenes from each of those respective cities on the album. Makaya is one of the few artists who have truly merged hip-hop and jazz seamlessly.
6. Tunde Olaniran – “Stranger”
Avant-garde pop meets trap is the best way to describe the latest album from Flint, Michigan native Tunde Olaniran. Tracks like “Stranger” fits well next to songs from Drake and Migos, as well as Vampire Weekend and Lorde.
7. Kamasi Washington – “Heaven and Earth”
Kamasi doesn’t release albums, he releases concepts and ideas. On his latest double album, he celebrates the jazz of the past with an eye on the future. Listening to the album is almost a spiritual experience. It is a transformative listening experience and every time I listen I create my own film featuring scenes of anime, science fiction and surreal scenes of nature.
8. Kadhja Bonet – “Childqueen”
Kadhja brings ’70s psychedelic soul to a new generation on her latest album. Conjuring the spirit of artists like Minnie Riperton and The Rotary Connection, Kadhja’s angelic voice will give you goosebumps like no other singer alive today.
9. serpentwithfeet – “soil”
Just like the previous mention Kadhja, serpentwithfeet’s voice is otherworldly. The best way to describe the album is to imagine if Frank Ocean came from another planet and learned the foundation of gospel music.
10. Tierra Whack – Whack World
Tierra could be the one to usher in a new era of hip-hop. Clocking only at 15 minutes for 15 songs, Tierra broke all the rules of the music industry and created something simply unheard of in hip-hop. She packs in so many genres from R&B, slow jams, trap, dance and more into 15 minutes with unreal ease. Then there is a visual component for the album, where you definitely tell that she is a student of Missy Elliot.
1. Kamasi Washington – “Heaven and Earth”
If I think of what record I spent the most time with this year, it was “Heaven and Earth.” I feel like every time I see or hear Kamasi I am witnessing a legend in his prime. This album transports me to a place that I never want to stay too far away from. It’s my number one pick, and then some.
2. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
Thought it might be cliche to add this to my list, but… come on! This was one of the most unifying records of the year. EVERYONE loves this album! (I do too.)
3. Anderson .Paak – “Oxnard”
Anderson has quickly become my favorite artist in 2018. (eclipsing my love of Kendrick and Gambino). “Oxnard” is the perfect record for me.
4. August Greene – “August Greene”
I really like hip-hop trios in 2018. This super-group of Common, Karriem Riggins and Robert Glasper is a perfect balance of soul, jazz and boom bap.
5. Jungle – “For Ever”
I love everything about this record. Great grooves, cool vocals and smooth instrumentation. Jungle did not disappoint in 2018.
6. Leon Bridges – “Good Thing”
I spent a lot of time with this record in 2018. Leon is a great recording artist and he catapulted past his “retro sound” on this new album. It’s a true R&B classic.
7. Mac Miller – “Swimming”
I must admit, I was not the biggest Mac Miller fan prior to this release. But revisiting it after his untimely death in 2018 cemented this album onto my top 10 list. Thank you for this masterpiece Mac.
8. Chromeo – “Head Over Heels”
The French-Canadian duo returned in 2018, with their best album to date. It’s unapologetic funk for the dance floor.
9. Dr. Octagon – “Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation”
Kool Keith, Dan the Automator and DJ Q-Bert are back together, and it feels so good. This is not exactly a sequel to their 1996 album, but it does a great job of continuing the journey of this dynamic rap trio.
10. Vulfpeck – “Hillclimber”
There has yet to be a Vulfpeck release that I did not love. It’s soul, funk and fun all mixed together. They released this album last week, so I guess it barely makes my list!
1. Anderson Paak – “Oxnard”
I was expecting this album to be amazing—and for me, it lived up to all the hype. Anderson .Paak has never let me down and “Oxnard” is continuation and expansion of his unique style. Between “Brother’s Keeper,” “Tints” and my favorite “Anywhere” that is a tribute to old school R&B, .Paak just keeps raising the bar.
2. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
Not only was the album great, but the “emotion picture” that accompanied it blew my mind as well. Janelle Monáe has always been a few steps in the future with her sound, but I think we all are finally starting to catch up.
3. Nipsey Hussle – “Victory Lap”
The two singles that led up to this album (“Last Time That I Checc’d” and “Rap N*ggas”) brought so much raw energy that I knew the album “Victory Lap” would do the same. West coast hip-hop is on fire right now and Nipsey Hussle’s voice is just as impactful and important as all the other major players.
4. Saba – “Care For Me”
When is comes to soulful hip-hop, Saba is hands-down leading the charge. He puts himself, his emotions and his soul on full display throughout “Care For Me.” So much so that you get chills on almost every song. This is one you have to listen to in headphones on a relaxing Sunday afternoon and once you do, you’ll understand.
5. Noname – “Room 25”
With “Room 25,” Noname put herself in the conversation for one of the best lyricists in hip-hop as a whole. The jazzy production, combined with her unique flow made for the perfect follow up to her break out 2016 album “Telefone.” Her style is like no one else’s and she just keeps getting better.
6. Vanjess – “Silk Canvas”
Vanjess has become this generations Zhane. This duo takes neo soul to a whole new level and with collaborations with Masego and even Goldlink, they mix in house and hip-hop elements to their music with ease.
7. Pusha T – “Daytona”
King Push has always been about bars, and with Kanye’s production on Daytona he found himself in his comfort zone (even though it was only seven tracks long). With “Santeria,” “The Games We Play” and the song that had everyone talking “Infrared,” Pusha T reminded everyone why he’s been one of the best MCs in hip-hop over the last two decades.
8. Kali Uchis – “Isolation”
I honestly didn’t know much about Kali Uchis before “Isolation,” but after the first listen I was hooked. This project hits so many genres like R&B, neo soul, bossa nova, reggaeton, funk and even pop, but all fits together perfectly. It’s personal and the storytelling throughout makes it relatable to everyone.
9. Cardi B – “Invasion Of Privacy”
I get that Cardi B can be a polarizing figure, but if everyone is being real, this album was not. It was clearly fire and we have to be honest about it. There are at least 10 songs on this album that are radio hits, but between the collabs with Chance The Rapper, Bad Bunny, J Balvin, YG and SZA, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
10. Amine – “OnePointFive”
Amine has been on my radar since his breakout single “Caroline” and OnePointFive just made me like him even more. This whole album made me bounce as I listened and just kept me in a great mood. He’s found his lane and I can’t wait to hear more from him.
1. Cardi B – “Invasion of Privacy”
In the midst of a male dominated genre, Cardi B holds nothing back on this album. “Belcalis Almanzar” is unapologetically raw, charismatic and is showing no signs of slowing down.
2. Rosalia – “El Mal Querer”
There is no artist in this decade that has grabbed my attention more Rosalia has in such a short amount of time. The album screams culture, feeds you passion and delivers a timeless Spanish sound.
3. Drake – “Scorpion”
4. Travis Scott – “Astro World”
“Astro World” is a sonically fresh listen. Scott takes advantage of his rap rockstar status to deliver a futuristic hip-hop classic.
5. DJ Koze – “Knock Knock”
Being a big fan of house music, DJ Koze captured my attention in 2018, not only with his hit “Pick Up” (thanks to Amelinda), but with a very smooth “Moving in a Liquid.” The album is experimental, uplifting, and cool. You can dance and meditate at the same time during this two-hour collection of vibes.
6. Jay Rock – “Redemption”
I believe Jay Rock when he says “Tryna solve my problems off this fifth of Henny /How many f***s to give, lately, I’m running empty/Struggle with who I am and who I wanna be/Got the streets and these beats right in front of me” in “For What It’s Worth.” Jay’s patience, loyalty and take no prisoners attitude helped this album pop for me.
7. Tierra Whack – “Whack World”
“Whack World” made me say, “WAIT, What…wait did that just happen?! Start the video over!” This is the most creative of my top 10. Tierra Whack not only drops an album with 15 one minute songs, but drops a video master piece that showcases her many talents.
8. J Balvin – “Vibras”
This album is simply a continuation of his 2016 album “Energía.” From beginning to end you can’t help but dance to rhythms of reggaetón.
9. George Fitzgerald – “All That Must Be”
All I have to say is “BURNS,” “Half-Light-Night Version” and “The Echo Forgets.” These songs are the driving force of this album, everything else is a bonus for me. It’s trance, house, acid, and will certainly work on the dance floor.
10. Jessie Reyez – “Being Human in Public”
This album just made it into my top 10 albums, because of one song, “Sola.” This very short record is very good, but “Sola” provided the one element of versatility I love seeing artists take advantage of, especially if they speak the language.
1. The 1975 – “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships”
The 1975 pack a lot into a small package. Listening to this album is sometimes like listening to the work of three or four bands smashed together. The diversity of musical styles – from acoustic to in-your-face, sugary pop – keeps my attention and gives me the feels. Especially Sincerity is Scary, with an even cuter music video. My partner and I watched it, teared up, looked at each other and said “oh baybeh.” It’s cool when music does that.
2. Field Report – “Summertime Sounds”
Another fantastic work from Christopher Porterfield. He has such a talent for songwriting, for painting lyrical pictures, for telling personal stories in a beautiful and relatable way. My favorite track on the album is one he pointed out (in the mini-doc we created this year), “Everything I Need.” It’s a beautiful, personal love song.
3. Ariana Grande – “Sweetener”
Aside from the weird PR year for her, Ariana Grande proved herself, yet again, as one of the top singers in the music world right now, just based on raw talent. She’s just got it. I can’t imagine being able to sing like that. This album has been playing in my house, real loud, since it came out.
4. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
This album came to life for me after seeing her perform much of it live at Summerfest this year. What a show. It was LOUD, the live instruments were on point, and she, obviously, was stunning. After that, I got deeper into the album and got to appreciate the genius of the lyrics and just her…presence…as an artist. I appreciate her fearlessness in her coming out as queer this year, and I even more felt it when the Milwaukee audience responded with a thunderous applause when she addressed her whirlwind year on stage.
5. Jungle – “For Ever”
I had been waiting for this album forever. I fell in love with Jungle after their debut in 2015, and I was truly worried the band was done. We hadn’t heard much from them in the last couple years—no gigs, no new songs. But they came through with “For Ever” this year, and it is (mostly) everything I had hoped for. They’re one of those bands with a sound that’s truly unique to them, and this album keeps me in the place I want to be after a long day. I’m glad they continued the tradition, too, in their music videos of not focusing so much on the band and instead relying on a cast of amazingly talented dancers to interpret their music.
6. Kooks – “Let’s Go Sunshine”
I’ve always liked this band. It may not be the deepest album ever, but it makes me happy.
7. KT Tunstell – Wax
Everyone knows her one song, but she has a whole catalogue of lovely and quite different albums, including her latest, “Wax.” I interviewed her when she came though Milwaukee and spent a lot of time with this album in preparation. The second in her trio of albums exploring themes of spirit, body and mind, respectively. This one is introspective, raucous when it needs to be, and features an “instrument” of her own design, the “stomp tambourine.” You’ll have to watch her session to really understand.
8. Lo Moon – “Lo Moon”
This band managed to build a profile for itself when it only had two songs to its name. That changed this year with their full length debut. I quite enjoyed it, despite its tepid critical reviews. It takes me places, and I enjoy their complex, layered sound. They said in a Radio Milwaukee interview this year (before the album’s release) that for them “it’s all about the music,” which certainly comes through on this album.
9. Cardi B – “Invasion of Privacy”
Need I say more? I wish I could be her.
10. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – “‘A Star Is Born’ Soundtrack”
I am an unapologetic Lady Gaga fan. But even as a fan of her music, I was surprised how much I loved this movie, how much it stayed with me after seeing it, and how much I found myself singing along with the album, at full volume. The best song is clearly “I’ll Never Love Again.” The album is cool, too, because it includes so much extra content from the movie.
1. Shannon and the Clams – “Onion”
Pairing gut-wrenching lyrics with upbeat doo-wops and surf guitars is a recipe that has my full attention, but add in Shaw’s powerhouse vocals and a deep bass line and it’s near perfect. The album has a fun, lighthearted facade that breaks through with honesty and vulnerability.
2. Post Animal – “When I Think of You in a Castle”
I was able to catch Post Animal a few times this year and every time I was blown away. Their casual, yet tight, jam style is contagious and they managed to translate that energy into the album perfectly. They don’t venture too far into one genre, but blend an array of my favorite styles while keeping it fun and effortless.
3. Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake”
Venturing into some more party-centric sounds, the disco, danceable influences are heavier in their latest release and it makes for a garage-rock party everyone can enjoy.
4. Courtney Barnett – “Tell Me How You Really Feel”
Courtney Barnett is first and foremost a storyteller to me. She pours her heart and soul in the highest form of vulnerability with such ease and familiarity it’s almost as if you’ve known her your entire life. With her honesty, relatability and straightforward attitude, she is a force that has you feeling like you are not alone.
5. Lex Allen – “Table 7: Sinners & Saints”
6. Nao – “Saturn”
7. Screaming Females – “All at Once”
The opening track is a testament to the vocal talents of front woman Marissa Paternoster and upfront styling of the group. With the original line up (and Fugazi’s Brendan Canty featured on some tracks as a second drummer), the trio’s larger than life sound is tighter than ever.
8. Dogs in Ecstasy – “Dreams & Gripes”
The Milwaukee pop rock/punk group take stabs at societal norms in the best way they know how. The synth heavy album is a packed punch of self-reflection and observances.
9. Grapetooth – “Grapetooth”
10. Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
I feel like Taylor finally gets the production she deserves, even if it’s a shorter than I’d like. Produced by Kanye West, the album is filled with earlier stylings of old Kanye and hits various extremes—Vogue influences, seductive R&B and slower melodies. (Also, K.T.S.E. stands for Keep That Same Energy.)
1. Florence + The Machine – “High As Hope”
Her voice takes me on a journey. I love the richness and depth of the lyrics. Even though some songs are relaxing, there is always a height and wave of energy built within the harmonies.
2. Prince – “Prince & a Microphone 1983”
I was born in 1982, so some of these songs were before my time. My mother is a Prince fan, so naturally I grew up listening to Prince, especially “Purple Rain.” I recently visited Paisley Park and have an even deeper newfound respect for Prince after that visit. Highly recommend you plan a visit there if you are a Prince fan.
3. Dead Horses – “My Mother the Moon”
It’s the type of album you can throw on and let ride throughout your day. The instrumentation combined with her warm voice is soothing and reminds me of being home in the country. This album, and albums like “Mental Illness” from Aimee Man, could be found on repeat in my collection without pause. As a singer myself, I’m a sucker for a great female vocalist.
4. The Carters – “Everything is Love”
I like the swagger of this album and the fact that J and B came together for it. “Friends” and “Summer” are my top two on the album.
5. Lex Allen – “Table 7: Sinners & Saints”
What can I say, I’m so proud of all Lex has accomplished and love this new project. “Release” is such a beautiful song. I can’t wait to continue to watch Lex soar.
6. Janelle Monáe – “Dirty Computer”
I saw her perform at Summerfest this year and man was it good. Her energy, costumes and set were amazing! When I listen to the album I go right back to that night.
7. Valerie Lighthart – “V.A.L”
I just discovered her a couple weeks ago and really love the tone of her voice. She has some catchy tunes on this EP and it leaves me wanting to hear more.
8. Toni Braxton – Sex & Cigarettes
OMG! I had this album on non-stop for months. There’s something about a heartbreak album mixed with Toni’s deep voice and sultry sound. I think I have the whole album memorized, as I often sing along to her while in my car. It got so real, I had to get my windows tinted this year.
9. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades – “The Ode”
I discovered this album while on a road trip out west with my dad and brother. My brother and I woke up to watch the sunrise in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and listened to “The Ode” while we drove through the sun-kissed glow of the red rocks. It was a special moment that I will never forget. I’m looking forward to seeing Horseshoes & Hand Grenades on NYE in Milwaukee. I saw them at Summerfest a couple years back, and when they play live you can’t help but have a permagrin! They exude happiness.
10. Amanda Huff – “Hemiptera”
When I listen to her album I feel like I’m part of a film. She captures feeling and evokes emotion in a powerful way.
1. Lucius – “Nudes”
I love when outdated lyrics continue to hold meaning despite that time has passed, like in “Neighbors.” The vocal harmonies and lyrics to this song are so raw that you don’t need to know every word in the song to feel the message.
2. The Lemon Twigs – “Go To School”
I have to give credit to my buddy Terry Hackbarth on this one. When he told me why he loved the song “Small Victories,” from the album, he nailed it: “Two brothers, 19 and 21 years old. Nobody makes records like this…audacious, adventurous, whimsical, sad…recorded the old-school way, direct to tape.”
3. Greta Van Fleet – “Anthem of a Peaceful Army”
I don’t want to hear any of you old dogs tell me how much they sound like Led Zeppelin. We all know this, but I don’t find it as a reason to dislike this band. Yeah, lots of bands sound like other bands, but at least this crew is young and putting effort into it. The teenagers want to rock. Don’t let your old-dog bias slow them down.
4. Brandi Carlile – “By the Way, I Forgive You”
There’s always that damn song to remind you of the things that hurt the most. On “By the Way, I Forgive You,” the title is that song.
5. J Mascis – “Elastic Days”
I love the gentle and calming affect the title track has on me. J Mascis could have gone in any direction he wanted with this one, (made it a rocker-rage of some sort), but instead he stuck with the substance of simplicity. Simple lyrics, graceful guitar solos, and a warmth that gives the song “elasticity.” (See what I did there?)
6. The Jayhawks – “Back Roads and Abandoned Motels”
The bias is strong for me on this one. I’m a huge fan of the Jayhawks. Definitely one of my go-to bands. This album has smart lyrics, smart song structures and smart melodies.
7. David Myhr – “Lucky Day”
When I was about 20 years old, I worked at the Exclusive Company. Being a rookie employee, I wasn’t quick to take any responsibility for what music was played in the store. I left that work to the experienced and soaked up all I could. My buddy Terry Hackbarth sent me this song. Terry has taste in music that I appreciate, and it always seems to have a little bit of a Beach Boys feel hidden somewhere. I hear it in this one. Thanks Terry.
8. Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour”
I’ve always had a little country kick to my system (with the strong exception of this auto-tune-rap-country that I keep hearing). I dig the fact that Kacey took a step away from the typical female-country-singer role to try something new.
9. Mini Meltdowns – “Mini Meltdowns”
I love claiming bragging rights on the talents of Milwaukee (especially when the talented people are personal friends). Indeed, this is Milwaukee music (just ignore the part that says Nashville). I’ve had this album proudly displayed in my home all year. The cover art makes me giggle. Every time the Bluetooth loses its signal in my car, this song fires up from the CD player. This album has become my personal anthem for my 2018 daily commute. Its rock, a bit punk, a swift kick in the pants and it makes me feel young. I listen to this song and I see myself setting off fireworks with my brothers in the middle of the night in Cedarburg. Cops roll up and we dive over the extra-fancy shrubbery.
10. Jade Bird – “Uh-huh”
Jade Bird has release a few tracks in 2018, but the full album is yet to be announced. Nonetheless, the 2018 single release “Uh-huh” has had a special place in my year. She’s full of grit, energy and I have no doubt that she’s loud everywhere she goes. I can’t wait to hear what she does next. Get ’em girrrl!!!
1. Ben Chatwin – “Staccato Signals”
If you’ve ever messed around with modular synths, it can feel like a wild, feral thing. Ben Chatwin lets go of the reigns and allows the music to steer itself. A string section in a chapel in Scotland breathes through it, creating a sound that feels alive, emotional, and maybe even a little bit dangerous. It’s the most organic I’ve ever heard synths and feels like an exciting discovery.
2. IDLES – “Joy as an Act of Resistance”
I’m envious of anyone who’s seen IDLES live (looking at you, Justin Barney), but you don’t need to be in the room to feel the immediacy and unrest bubbling under the surface of “Joy as an Act of Resistance,” an album restrained just enough to make you a little on edge, while still providing the release of a shared frustration in the current events of the world.
3. Jeff Rosenstock – “POST-“
Some days I want to go the route of more overt sing-a-longs to express the aforementioned shared frustrations as well as internal anxieties. In that case, “POST” is more the salve I’m looking for. The songs are reminiscent of basement shows I was going to in high school or the pop punk I’d witness at Chicago’s Fireside Bowl when the genre felt new and exciting and was the community I felt I was searching my youth for. The themes on “POST-” resonate with me as an adult, but still feed that inner child wanting to feel like they’re not alone.
4. Mourn – “Sorpresa Familia”
The kids are alright. The ladies and gent of Mourn bring youthful angst and energy into angular post-punk that sounds technically far beyond their years and makes me excited for the next generation of music.
5. Anna Burch – “Quit the Curse”
Anna Burch has lyrics and conversational vocal style that convinces you she’s been your friend for years and gets you. Then you interview her as if you’re already BFFs and she goes along with it. Meet her at her merch stand and you’ll be further convinced. She’s sweet, but don’t be fooled – she’s had some life experience and there’s an acerbic bite to the ear candy she’s delivering with a smile.
6. The Amazing – “In Transit”
Some sounds transport you to a particular time and place. The Amazing is a band I listened to while traveling to Sweden after feeling quite a bit lost. Stockholm is a watery place that feels both lush and grey in my memory and that’s exactly the visage I get while listening to “In Transit.” In a random set of circumstances, I’m playing viola on a track on this album, which adds a deeper emotional connection and surreality to an already transcendent and dreamy album that lives up to its title.
7. Remember Sports – “Slow Buzz”
I’ve really annoyed my friends with my love of this band for years now. After a name change (neé Sports) Remember Sports return with “Slow Buzz,” stylistically a culmination of my favorite elements from their past work into a perfect slice of indie-rock with so so so much heart.
8. Screaming Females – “All At Once”
Sometimes you experience a moment when you realize you are witnessing a living virtuoso. That’s the case for most who have witnessed Marissa Paternoster do her thing in Screaming Females. The whole band and album is a powerhouse of emotion, right out of the gate with “Glass House.” The journey continues and while Paternoster is a strong vocalist and virtuosic guitarist – it’s measured in just the right doses for maximum impact (even if I do just want to hear her shred solos forever).
9. Preoccupations – “New Material”
Have you ever really leapt into the ’80s gothy post-punk pool that Joy Division and The Cure swam in? I took a deep dive this year and was super stoked to hear modern bands bringing the genre into this era, especially Preoccupations.
10. Pilar Zeta – “Moments of Reality”
This one is a surprise to me. Did I think I would obsess over a new age album made in this decade? No, but dang this album has given me an appreciation for the whole genre. Pilar Zeta is so aesthetic in her internet presence she seems to exist purely in her ’80s/’90s retro-futurist world. Zeta’s skill and dedication extends to album art, graphic design, fashion design and set design. You may have seen her work and not even known it – from Coldplay album art to creating Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” tour live visuals and Miguel’s Ascension Tour creative direction. The Argentinian artist creates whole worlds and music is just another space to get lost in her alternate reality and the corresponding videos are mesmerizing.
This is when we usually do a 10 most played albums of the year article. But, you’ve already heard that music on the air for the past 12 months. Instead, we’re doing something different and a little more personal for 2018.
At Radio Milwaukee we’re proud to have large roster of disc jockeys, each with their own unique personal tastes—tastes that don’t always make it into the airwaves. So instead of one albums of the year list, we’re bringing you a little over 10. These are the 88Nine DJs’ real top 10 albums of 2018—the music that got us through the year, made us cry and dance at concerts and the songs we listened to off duty, in our cars, at the gym, while checking emails at work or at home.
Click on the DJ below to read their picks, or keep scrolling to see them all.
We also want to know your favorite music of the year. Vote here to help us pick 88Nine’s top 100 albums of 2018.