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50 Best Albums of 2018

2018 was all about bold new voices breaking out of the margins and being heard — from Latin-pop party-starters to feminist guitar heroes to a new school of hip-hop revolutionaries.

best albums

This year felt more like a changing of the guard than any year in recent memory. There weren’t as many superstar blockbusters to suck up all the oxygen so younger innovators got the attention they deserved. It was a fantastic year for ambitious Latin-pop, psychedelic Southern rap, Gen Z indie rock and boundary-defying country. Janelle Monáe paid respect to Prince by updating his joyfully fluid legacy; singers like Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello brought new emotional depth to the top of the charts; beloved veterans like Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, David Byrne and John Prine made inventive, richly insightful albums; and Drake somehow found a way to elevate his Drake-ness to even more exaltant new heights — proof that in the music world of 2018 anything was possible.

Snail Mail Lush
26

Snail Mail, ‘Lush’

At 18 years old, Lindsay Jordan is already a nuanced guitar player with a unique command of her clear-cutting voice, and the mastery of Nineties-style indie-rock she shows on Lush is striking at every turn. Songs like “Pristine,” “Heat Wave” and “Golden Dream” recall classic Liz Phair with their jagged, dreamy guitars and pinpoint interiority, each building from a murmur to a holler as if we’re watching grow into a new epiphany every time she picks up a guitar. What she’ll end up be doing at 28 may turn out to be one of the next decades’s most exciting rock & roll dramas.

RaeSremmurd SR3MM
25

Rae Sremmurd, ‘SR3MM’

2018 did not want for very long albums but few used their wide-open spaces as wondrously as Mississippi twin brother duo Rae Sremmurd. The last time a Southern hip-hop duo released an album as ambitious as this 101-minute psychedelic trap-music exploration, they were called Outkast. Whether Lamborghini-slick (“Powerglide”) or sky-high and sad (“Hurt to Look”), brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi give every song a unique mix of openhearted ness and indulgence without losing the youthful energy that made their first pop-rap hits so addictive.

Kali Uchis Isolation
24

Kali Uchis, ‘Isolation’

An American pop upstart with Colombian roots, Uchis recalls vintage Beck in the grab-bag brio of her debut: Her hip-hop soul grooves roller-skate on the astral plane as she fires off tasty shots like “Your Teeth in My Neck,” and mixes Brazilian music, reggaeton, funk and doo-wop, holding it all together by force of a casual charisma she sums up herself in the radiant “Miami”: “Why would I be Kim, I could be Kanye/In the land of opportunity and palm trees.” Hard to argue with that.

US Girls In A Poem Unlimited
23

U.S. Girls, ‘In a Poem Unlimited’

Meg Remy’s sixth studio LP was one of the most potent political records of 2018 – and also one of the slyest, smartest, and most chilling, a mix of acid funk and throwback disco with squalling saxophones and warped guitar riffs. “Rage of Plastics” sounds like a Screaming Jay Hawkins declaration reimagined by Karen Silkwood. “M.A.H.” surveys a horrifically bleak marriage (and Obama-era disillusionment) amidst ‘70s dancefloor reverie. “Rosebud” is a trip-hop anthem of self-discovery invoking Citizen Kane, while “Incidental Boogie” turns the psychology of an abused spouse into a mutant club jam. These are feminist party jams that, to their credit, don’t see escapism as an option.

 

John Prine The Tree of Forgiveness
22

John Prine, ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

No American singer/songwriter besides Dylan — a confirmed fan — has a longer run of greatness than Prine. His first set of originals in a decade, produced by country-Americana guru Dave Cobb, reaffirms that. His plainspoken tenor creaks hard, amplifying the come-on-home poignancy of “Summer’s End” and the gravitas of “Caravan of Fools” (a spot-on indictment of our current administration); “When I Get to Heaven” ponders the hereafter with punchlines, earned sentimentality and looming void. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get there for a long while yet.