As we close the door on another year, Soundblab Staff has collectively assembled a review of the best releases from 2018. The musical landscape of 2018 was filled with avant-garde hip-hop, blistering experimentation, and provided prominent voices to soundtrack everyone’s lives. The releases collected here represent the vast spectrum that Soundblab has covered throughout the year. So here is Soundblab's Top Releases of 2018. Enjoy!
2018 was the year everyone remembered Low, or, possibly discovered them for the first time. For the last few decades, they've ridden the fine line between shoegaze and ambience - creating a genre affectionately coined as "slowcore." But in 2018, Low re-emerged with BJ Burton in tow to produce their greatest crowning achievement of the 21st century. Double Negative's coarse edges and blistering electronics are prescient and emotive, submerging its listener in dagger-like glitches. It's harmonious nature to current events makes it the stand out of the year, and one that will continue to be applicable for at least 2 more years.
Reworked and reinvented many years on from his first real romantic relationship while attending William and Mary, the new Twin Fantasy benefits from a more reflective and forgiving look back. Forgiving both his lover and more importantly himself. From the leadoff notes of the Beach Boys’ inspired melody of ‘My Boy (Twin Fantasy)’ to sentimental closer ‘Twin Fantasy (Those Boys)’ that has the relationship itself bound and packaged as memory and walking off down the beach. The album rocks hard in spots (‘Cute Thing’, ‘Bodys’) and recounts history more openly in others. From the Old Testament wish for destruction on round one to the New Testament lens of grace on round two, Will Toledo creates the final masterpiece he set out to make.
Like many of my top five albums of this year, Dacus’ masterpiece of heart, wit, and grit came out early in the year but deservedly hung on all year long as my favorite of the year. Early in her career, Dacus has put together a stunning display of compositional ability. She knows her way around a pop song and has lyrical and vocal capabilities that put her on a whole other level. From sweetly sung heart-tuggers like ‘Pillar of Truth’ and ‘Historians’ to more dynamic pieces like ‘Night Shift’, Dacus humbly shows that she can do it all. The art on display here shows that penning a perfect song is no easy feat. And speaking of art, apparently, she did the cover of the album as well. Having this combination of skills is not fair to the rest of us mere mortals. Maybe she’s shitty at bowling.
NYC punks Parquet Courts have been on a winning streak. With no bad albums under the belt, the quartet followed-up Human Performance with an album that's every bit it's equal in terms of catchiness, playfulness, and just overall enjoyment. Influences from Wire and Minutemen aside, Parquet Courts are further solidifying their stardom in indie punk, and show no signs of getting tired.
5. Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
I can't think of a single artist who had a better 2018 than Janelle Monae. She's gone from humble Prince-protege to being a mega-star. Ever since she displayed her acting chops she's been on the rise, and she returned to the stage in 2018 to deliver the strongest voice for the LGBTQ community, as well as a powerful voice for women across the world. From her visual flair to her proto-sexualism, Monae's Dirty Computer set the world ablaze - aided by the Song of the Year contender "Make Me Feel." Today, it's kind of hard to imagine 2018 without Django Jane's pizzazz, and who would want to? This was her year, and we're glad she's with us on this ride.
Mitski puts forth her best album yet in the fourteen carefully constructed songs on Be The Cowboy. It may be populated with the most miserable of characters hoping for a better outcome to no avail, but the songs themselves run from sublime (‘Two Slow Dancers’) to crackling glam (‘A Pearl’). Cinematic in its detail, Be The Cowboy plays out like mini-movies whether the wished for screen kiss ever happens or not. If you had no idea what she was singing about, musically Mitski and longtime musical partner Patrick Hyland give us one Hell of a great listen. If you want to take the time to get down in the muck with her characters you can do that to.
Reznor and Ross exhibit a new sense of crisis, despair, and continued evolution. Bad Witch finds new depths and redefines what Nine Inch Nails can mean.
The Danish post-punkers are a masterclass in progression. Back in 2011, they were just scrappy, messy, teenagers with a penchant for brutal and brisk force, but over their four albums, they've managed to hone their craft. Beyondless represents another progression for them as they've managed to create a truly accessible approach, while also maintaining the tendencies from their first record.
9. Pusha-T - Daytona
It’s only 21 minutes long, which is the perfect amount of time for Pusha to engage in battle rap mode. With Kanye providing gritty beats, this is a slim, compact album that doesn’t wear out its welcome, and provides an opportunity for Pusha T to drop his best bars yet.
Mixing surf-rock and post-punk competently seems like a relatively easy task, but for Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, it's been a journey from their Talk Tight EP back in 2016. Hope Downs represents a culmination of all their hard work and perseverance - establishing a name for themselves in a crowded scene. It's a darker record, but still feels sunny by comparison to their previous efforts, and it shines nonetheless.
Lindsey Jordan's Snail Mail project was launched while she was still in high school, and before Lush was even announced she was supporting high profile indie acts like Waxahatchee, Ought, Girlpool, and Priests. Lush mixes all of her influences solidly - there's strands of Fiona Apple, The Velvet Underground, and even Paramore - while providing indie rock with the next bold voice.
Sophie Allison's Soccer Mommy came to full realization in 2018. Allison's honesty is the primary tool involved with Clean, her sparkling debut album. Clean's crisp production, coupled with her undeniably confessional lyricism paves the way for an album full of clever musings, as well as strong endearment for the heroes of 2018 - women.
Pro-immigration anthems, mournful declarations, and hardcore performances come together to make up the new Idles album. It’s an album that contrasts its uber-masculine sound with an anti-societal masculinity message. More importantly, it’s just so much damn fun.
The Aussie-rocker has been on a rocket towards the moon since her double EPs back in 2014. Somewhere along the line, she became a certified rock star - selling out arenas across the world. With Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett further establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. Her genius knows no bounds this time around, and the songwriting feels tighter, less jammy that its predecessor. Where she goes next is anyone's guess, but for now, Barnett's thrilling performances and wittiness are on prime display here.
15. Kids See Ghosts - Kids See Ghosts
Kid Cudi and Kanye follow the Pusha T route with an incredibly short album that, if I’m being honest, probably deserved to be fleshed out a tad more than it was. That being said, the mixture of Cudi’s grungy tastes and Kanye’s off-the-wall production (as well as some of his best lyricism in years) makes up for what’s lacking in length.
The slow rollout for 7 was a bit exhilarating, as the dream-pop duo has always kept things conventional. This new playfulness is all over 7, their best record since 2012's Bloom, and a revitalized feeling that was missing from 2015's Depression Cherry. 7's harder edges are still steeped in noise and reverb, but vocally Beach House has never sounded more direct.
17. Sleep - the Sciences
As slow and heavy as a semi-truck driving up Mount Lemmon. That’s the Sleep sound I know and love, and while Dopesmoker was a campy lark, The Sciences is much more accessible to a more casual (less stoned) listener.
Josh Tillman's rise to indie rock icon status may have been slow, but his trajectory since adopting the Father John Misty moniker has been anything but. With God's Favorite Customer, Tillman dismisses the critics of his polarizing last record Pure Comedy. In response, a tightly wound, endearing record surfaces, and hearkens back to Tillman's first album Fear Fun's enjoyment, while still maintaining his persona's cleverness.
One of 2015's breakout artists finally returned in 2018, and with them came a record that defied the previous conventions. Bark Your Head Off, Dog utilizes electro-pop in strands, and it's those bits that make cuts like Somewhere a Judge feel whole. Hop Along strived to make a worthy follow-up to Painted Shut but instead made a record that quite possibly surpasses that.
20. Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs
Earl had a rough 2018. He lost his father, cancelled a tour, and had several setbacks with releasing music in a time when rabid fans are more demanding than ever. His response? The 25 minute, 15 track, avant-garde hip-hop record Some Rap Songs - an album that essentially rewrites rap for the next generation. With tracks that condense his poetic bars into 1-2 minute sprints, Earl establishes himself as the innovator necessary to saving rap, and succeeds beautifully.
On Khruangbin’s second effort, a lucid, airy transfiguration gracefully unfolds, traveling through the desert plains without haste. While there is seemingly a lack of literary elements incorporated in the record, the lush instrumentation dexterously gives the listener all the resources to visualize their own sonic landscape. Of course, one can assume that the title of this record Con Todo El Mundo (“With The Whole World”) willingly plugs in intricate influences from a plethora of different countries.
LA noise-rock duo No Age took some time off after the lukewarm reception to their 2013 experimental record An Object. This much needed break for the workhorse band revitalized them for Snares Like a Haircut - an album that brings that back from the murky territory of the previous record and positions them back in the spotlight. It won't win any awards probably, but Snares Like a Haircut is the necessary palate cleanser they needed.
It had been nearly six years since their last release (2012’s Runner) when Chicago’s The Sea and Cake released Any Day back in May. And in many ways, Any Day is a new beginning for the veteran indie-rock outfit (if this was a debut release, it would be one of the best in recent memory). Re-tooled as a three-piece, Sam Prekop & Co. chose to rein in some of the jazz-fueled embellishments that defined their earlier work and in turn delivered one of the best alt-rock releases in recent memory.
In what might be Jason Pierce's final statement on space rock, And Nothing Hurt is his most direct album in some time. After the 6 year silence post-Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Pearce returned in 2018, And Nothing Hurt feels like a swan song. A wonderful bookend to a project that threw everything at it's audience. And while And Nothing Hurt dials back the grand orchestrations, and choir singing, it still feels like the most appropriate send-off for Spiritualized.
Quite frankly, every track is a great listen. “Great No One” is typical. The band’s engine room rocks; Elizabeth Stokes’s vocals have a folk tune richness; and that guitar fills in every vacant moment with power and fluid melody. And then the vocal harmonies soar with (almost) Brian Wilson and Beach Boy beauty. “Future Me Hates Me” ups the ante with ample vocal range that projects a psychological duet, while the guitar plays a rather wonderful riff. “Uptown Girl” is, thankfully, not a cover of a Billy Joel tune. But it does have a guitar solo that, again, simply arcs a tough rainbow over the band’s rock ‘n’ roll music.
Sean Bowie operates as the electronic enigma Yves Tumor, and over the last couple of years he's produced thrilling experimental music that often times became a tough pill to swallow. But ever since "Noid" debuted over the summer of 2018, Bowie's been poised for success. Safe In the Hands of Love is one of the more accessible experimental records out there - it has pop hooks, with bright production, and harmonic vocals that will make any listener swoon. The fact that he pulls this off without a misstep is a testament to his talent and longevity in his scene.
The exact opposite of last year’s guest-choked Humanz, this is the closest thing to pure Gorillaz since their debut almost two decades ago. It also happens to be a perfect summer album and one of their best live shows to date.
Even in the midst of a cutting political statement, the album embodies the intrinsic joy brimming forth within the Yo La Tengo catalog. Riot is overflowing with breezy beach tunes (the aptly named “Polynesia #1”) and flowery summer rock anthems (“For You Too”), with 1950s island dance numbers (“Let’s Do It Wrong”) and bouncy calypso beats (“Esportes Casual”). Even moments of sadness, such as the feathery, upbeat “Shades of Blue,” are kept beneath peppy waves of blissful devotion.
29. Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar
The Mercury Prize winning Scottish hip-hop group Young Fathers followed up their sophomore breakthrough White Men Are Black Man Too with a more subtle, but all the more pop speckled third outing Cocoa Sugar. The much adored previous outing kept their fanbase hungry for more and in 2018 Young Fathers did not disappoint. Cocoa Sugar takes everything the previous album did and improves upon it - for better or worse depending on who you ask - but the end product is a wholesome alternative hip-hop record from a fellowship poised for success.
It seems most folks had written off Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Always noted for his contributions to Pavement, Malkmus and his Jicks stumbled through a lot of records, but returned strong in 2018 with Sparkle Hard - their best record since the mid-2000s. Everything about Sparkle Hard... well... sparkles. Hard. From the repetitive but humorous "Bike Lane" to the reflective "Middle America" and even the twangy Kim Gordon spot "Refute," Sparkle Hard captions an elder statesman in a revitalizing light.
31. Haley Heynderickx - I Need to Start a Garden
The Portland singer-songwriter's debut album is the best example in 2018 of perseverance. After so many setbacks for Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden is masterful accomplishment. Her angelic vocals whip through each track, and depict lush imagery, but also strong reservation in content. Her spiritual approach to songwriting makes her quite the unique voice in indie folk, and when she cuts loose - like on centerpiece "Worth It" - those angels start screeching, leaving us with an album that exists after legitimate tears were poured into it.
Jack White swims further out into the deep end of the pool on Boarding House Reach, or so he would have you believe. At its essence there is a brilliant funk album scattered intermittently across the course of thirteen tracks, like some long lost and particularly heavy Prince album. The residual songs, for the most part, serve to detract from the core here and aside from some of the lyrical content just aren’t as bonkers as White would like you to think. As ridiculous as it may sound, when White declares on the hip-hop flavored ‘Ice Station Zebra’ that James Brown told him you got to hit it and quit it - White unequivocally pulls off a sweaty, deviant funk/blues mini-album at a level you might not have expected.
Experimental popist Meghan Remy has been hanging around all of the right indie rock circles, straddling the genre lines, but on In a Poem Unlimited, Remy's influences and passions come crashing together deliberately. It's her best album to date, and features some of 2018's most infectious pop like on Incidental Boogie and Rage of Plastics.
Damon McMahon, the brainchild behind Amen Dunes, loaded his plate with some heady topics on Amen Dunes’ latest, Freedom. Among them, his father, his terminally sick mother, masculinity, heroes, spirituality, childhood, and plenty of other subject material that parallels the moody yet bouncy vibe emanating from the grooves of this record. Oh, and there’s a number about a surfer, too. Given all this, it’s not surprising that this album took three years to complete. Stocked with some ace musicians and experienced producers, including drummer Parker Kindred, Delicate Steve on guitars (his playing on here is brilliant), and producer Chris Coady, McMahon manages to transform the gravitas into something that offers just enough buoyancy to keep the record from collapsing under the weight of his lyrical aspirations.
Luke Abbott wobbles his synths all over the grooves; Laurence Pike is responsible for the sympathetic percussion, and Jack Wylie plays and distorts his sax in total telepathic twists and turns with his cohorts into weird corners of very circular tunes. This is a lovely record.
After AM, the Arctic Monkeys needed to do something different. Their sound had grown progressively stale since their debut record, running the risk of becoming the next iteration of the Strokes. Thankfully, Alex Turner opted for going full-weirdo by answering the pot-laden question: “What would happen if we, like, set Hotel California on the Moon?” It’s a grower for sure.
The initialed band led by MJ put together a mix of traditional rock instrumentation, drawn-out experimentation and electronics, and thoughtful songs to boot. The opening moments of ‘Negative Space’, about the death of a friend, serve initially as a rebuff but after repeated listens becomes irresistible. Proggy in places, but never bloated the album goes on to race in spots like on ‘Opener’ and then is all heart and melody in spots like ‘The Soft Season’ and closer ‘Shortcomings’. One that takes a few listens, but Microshift has many layered and infectious rewards. In spite of many obstacles and hard knocks, Hookworms “found a way to love the world” and produced some great music as a result.
As an updated take on vintage mid-70’s fusion, Heaven & Earth is a resounding success. But to take the accolades a step further, Washington has managed to craft an impressively cohesive, long-form musical statement that stands on its own. And all of that notwithstanding, the most impressive aspect of Heaven & Earth is that despite the colossal scope of Washington’s vision, it’s hard not to feel like the man’s just getting started.
This acoustic rearrangement of last year’s superb Masseduction shows just how solid Annie Clark’s songs are. Stripped of everything but a piano and her voice, some tracks are even more effective here than in their original state.
40. Rainbow Kitten Surprise - How to: Friend, Love, Freefall
North Carolina natives Rainbow Kitten Surprise (RKS) exploded onto the scene with their melodic blend of psych-pop and indie rock back in 2015. Bouncing back into the spotlight with HOw to: Friend, Love, Freefall, RKS bombarded their listeners with grooves and chilly harmonies. Genre-blending in the vein of Modest Mouse and Kings of Leon made them a go-to artist for 2018.
41. Denzel Curry - TA13OO
Soundcloud rapper Denzel Curry has been making gritty hip-hop for the last few years. At only 23 years old, it's incredible what he's produced with Ta13oo, his third album that takes aggression to a whole new level. His controversial approaches to hot-button issues has helped him amass a devoted following, and his shock-rapper style doesn't appear to be slowing down any.
Weirdo-pop group Superorganism laid 2017 out on their roadmap with a handful of singles that stitched together an identity of Wes Anderson-loving peculiarities. Their debut record feels like an exercise in pop-culture references, but they weave all of these compositions together so succinctly, it makes the listening experience feel like a game of real-life shoots & ladders. Being one of 2018's breakout artists, it'll be interesting to see what these kooky poppers conjure up next.
43. Vince Staples - FM!
One of the 2010s most prominent rappers returned with the surprise released FM! - a brief album that highlights the rappers wordplay abilities, while keeping things brisk and light. It doesn't quite match his previous efforts - specifically 2015's Summertime 06 - but Vince Staples is one of rap’s most gifted wordsmiths, and FM! is further proof of that.
The announcement of the indie rock dream team of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker collaborative project sent shockwaves. Three of rock's best singers were teaming up. Supergroups rarely deliver the goods, but boygenius exceeded expectations on their debut EP this year. There's no dominant factor either - each party involved has their moment to shine and provides ample support for each other, and that comes across wonderfully on the EP.
If you’re expecting 1978’s This Year’s Model, you’re bound to be disappointed. Safe to say, that Elvis left the building years ago. Nevertheless, Look Now is a welcome release which falls somewhere in between Punch the Clock and Painted from Memory.
46. Noname - Room 25
Underrated rap album by Noname, a female rapper who challenges the conventions that women “can’t rap” by delivering an immensely intimate look into her personal life and youth years.
With New Material, Preoccupations effectively outlived their previous two iterations - Women and Viet Cong. Changing their name before their sophomore record, Preoccupations stormed back into the scene in 2018 with another heaping helping of Joy Division inspired gothic rock anthems. All of the beloved ingredients from their previous albums are at play here, and with cuts like "Espionage" and "Antidote" commanding audiences during their live shows, the Calgary post-punkers are only going to get better.
There’s a lot to unpack here, especially considering this is probably the most eclectic collection of songs Segall has ever assembled onto a single album. Freedom’s Goblin has a little bit of everything really, of course, sporting Segall’s unique brand of crunchy and hooky psychedelic fuzz, along with a nice mix of respectably refined and melodic material (which results in some of Segall’s catchiest songs to date no less). But perhaps what’s most interesting is his newfound fondness for brass instruments and his occasional forays into funk, and how he manages to seamlessly incorporate those disparate sounds into his music in new and exciting ways.
So much is unknown about Pat Flegel's drag project Cindy Lee, but this compilation is a great jumping off point for those unfamiliar. Released this year to fund their next full LP in 2019, Cindy Lee's Model Express is a 40-minute snapshot of an evolving persona. It's steeped in lo-fi and feedback, but manages pristine pop and even throws in some synths for good measure. Exciting things are on the rise for Cindy Lee, and Model Express is a great way to prepare for it all.
There are nine songs in all, mostly mid-fi, jangly-pop, with some girl-group touches and the practiced chops of one who’s been around the Detroit music scene for a few years. Burch’s wry, brokenhearted lyrics, rendered utterly endearing with her crisp vocal talents and irresistible melodies, make this an instantly joyful listen. I’ll concede that the formula Burch relies on isn’t novel by any means; however, it’s hard to find fault in an album that’s so easy to love.
And the rest, in no particular order...
Ben Howard - Noonday Dream
J. Cole - KOD
Julia Holter - Aviary
Kleenex Girl Wonder - Vana Mundi
Mint Field - Pasar De Las Lucas
Sleaford Mods - s/t EP
The Opposition - Somewhere in Between
They Might Be Giants - I Like Fun
Bob Moses - Battle Lines
Goatman - Rhythms
Laura Gibson - Goners
Lump - Lump
The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking
Turnstile - Time & Space
Cave - Allways
Lusts - Call the Void
The Lovely Eggs - This is Eggland
Flowers Must Die - Dar Blommer Dor
Holy Golden - Sleepwalkers in the Milky Way
ILL – We Are ILL
Kleenex Girl Wonder - White Lacuna
Shadowparty - Shadowparty
Plan B – Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose
Mother Feather - Constellation Baby
Let’s Eat Grandma - I’m All Ears
serpentwithfeet - soil
Thom Yorke - Suspiria Soundtrack
Tomberlin - At Weddings
Waxahatchee - Great Thunder EP
Camp Cope - How to Socialise and Make Friends
Kurt Vile - Bottle It In
Fucked Up - Dose Your Dreams
Grand Canyon - Le Grand Canon
Kacey Musgraves - the Golden Hour
Mothers - Render Another Ugly Method
She Makes War - Brace for Impact
Smashing Pumpkins - Shiny and Oh So Bright vol. 1
MGMT – Little Dark Age
Leila Moss - My Name is Safe In Your Mouth
Mamuthones - Fear on the Corner
Jeff Rosenstock - POST
Moaning - Moaning
Evil Blizzard – The Worst Show On Earth
Flasher - Constant Image
Stella Diana - 57
Tropical Fuckstorm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace
Thee Oh Sees - Smote Reverser
Vryll Society - Course of the Satellite
Spain - Mandala Brush
The Prids - Do I Look Like I'm In Love
Kali Uchis - Isolation
John Paul - No Filter
The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic
A.A.L (Against All Logic) - 2012-2017
Cut Worms - Hollow Worms
Leon Bridges - Good THing
The Aints - Church of simultaneous Existence
Marissa Nadler - For My Crimes
Czarface & MF DOOM - Czarface Meets Metalface
HMS Morris - Inspirational Talks
Ryland Baxter - Wide Awake
Field Music - Open Here
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
Emma Ruth Rundle - On Dark Horses
Echodrone - Past, Present and Future
Molly Burch - First Flower
Craig Ross & Tim Rutili - 10 Seconds to Collapse
King Tuff - The Other
Kendrick Lamar - The Black Panther Soundtrack
Wild Pink - Yolk In The Fur
Hypoluxo - Running on a Fence
Lay Llamas - Thuban
Makaya McCraven - Universal Beings
Middle Kids - Lost Friends
Thick Syrup - Living in Leeds
Flynn Kliemann - Nie
Aphex Twin - Collapse EP
Slothrust - The Pact
The Sidekicks - Happiness Hours
Black Milk - Fever
Hinds - I Don't Run
The Messthetics - S/t
The Wind-Up Birds – Desire Paths
Wiegedood – De Doden Hebben Het Goed III
Bonnacons of Doom - Bonnacons of Doom
Zeal & Ardor - Strange Fruit
Liza Anne - Fine But Dying
Ball Park Music - Good Mood
Connan Mockasin - Jassbusters
Current 93 – The Light is Leaving us All
Routine Death - Parallel Universes
Douvelle19 – D19 EP
Gnod - Chapel Perilous
The Orielles - Silver Dollar Moment
Nice to see Iceage and Costello made the grade! I'll take Mark Lanegan's With Animals and Caroline Rose's Loner over Father John Misty & Jack White, though.