Mosaic’s top 50 albums of 2018

album cover top five
Music & Society Editor Edward Benner lists 2018’s standout albums.

Music & Society Editor

In a year where the country became further divided, streaming numbers skyrocketed and the popular music industry shifted towards an even more homogenized sound, independent music was alive and well serving as an exciting medium. From hip-hop to indie rock to electronic, the diverse gender and ethnic representation combined with the sheer creativity of the underground made 2018 a thrilling and empowering year for music. Narrowing down the best albums of the year was a challenge but this list encapsulates the most noteworthy releases that need to be heard.

1. Yves Tumor, “Safe in the Hands of Love”

Being an experimental music fan can sometimes be an exhausting experience. Certain musicians can become overly self-indulgent, the songs and concepts too repetitive or minimal or the music too grating or harsh.

Sometimes the question asked is why listeners willingly subject themselves to something that is not always enjoyable? It’s a valid inquiry. Music is supposed to be enjoyable, but experimental-music makers and fans are often in pursuit of something different.

Experimental music is meant to be challenging, cerebrally stimulating and unlike anything else heard before.

It is rare that an album actually lives up to this ethos in execution and feels wholly unique. Yves Tumor’s “Safe in the Hands of Love” is a rare exception and is utterly phenomenal. Upon one’s first listen it is evident that the album is in a league of its own and cannot be compared to anything else. The songs have a power behind them that is intensely unsettling and nightmare-inducing, while, at the same time, they reach levels of unparalleled beauty.

The amount of musical layers and ideas packed into any single moment is dizzying and mesmerizing. Cacophonous drums, harsh noise, spoken-word samples, overwhelming bass and jaggedly precise lyricism characterize “Safe in the Hands of Love” and somehow, through all of the sonic chaos, a shocking sense of melody is maintained. Yves Tumor depicts the fever-dreamish surrealism of modern life, yanking listeners through a harrowing journey of oppression, police brutality, technological isolation and restlessness, conveying the anguish, pain and immediacy of these topics.

At many points the music is almost too much to listen to due to the outpouring of raw emotion paired with the insistent instrumentals and challenging subject-matter, but Yves Tumor demands full attention and recognizes the necessity of facing difficult realities.

“Safe in the Hands of Love” is nothing less than captivating and marks a revolutionary step in experimental music and music in general this past year. No other album is as innovative, exhilarating, powerful or spellbinding as “Safe in the Hands of Love.” Yves Tumor demands your time and attention — his music needs to be heard.

2. JPEGMAFIA, “Veteran”

Hip-hop is indisputably the dominant force in the music industry, and while it has always been home to big egos, monetary flashiness and boasted excess, there seems to be a highly concerning disconnect from reality in the mainstream.

With Future advocating for prescription drug use, XXXTENTACION glorifying depression while being a twisted abuser, 6ix9ine being a pedophile, Sheck Wes peddling a particular brand of sexism and the members of Migos just being so far out of touch with real life that they have become caricatures of themselves, it has become disheartening to be a rap fan.

Outside of the highly questionable character traits of these figures, trap beats, careless autotune and repetitive lyricism have made much of the music so terrible that one can’t even find a way to justify distinguishing between art and artist.

Existing at the same time but in what feels like an entirely different universe, JPEGMAFIA (nicknamed Peggy) is a total revelation. “Veteran” is the antithesis of everything that defines the mainstream and is spectacularly radical and exciting.

Peggy unflinchingly speaks his mind and couldn’t care less about the implications of his strong opinions. Tackling such topics as gentrification, internet culture and institutionalized racism, “Veteran” is timely, cynical, intelligent and surprisingly humorous.

Peggy’s lyrics are rich with cultural references, his flows bombastic and unpredictable and his instrumentals plain bizarre. The beats are lo-fi and incorporate noise and sound, making them incredibly unique and noticeable.

JPEGMAFIA is the necessary voice in hip-hop right now, willing to take ownership for himself and hold his peers to a higher standard while pushing the boundaries of the genre and moving it in boldly inventive directions.

3. Kids See Ghosts, “Kids See Ghosts”

Kanye West confused and captivated the world in 2018 and made some of the most interesting music of his career in the process. “Kids See Ghosts” is the collaboration between West and Kid Cudi that had been rumored for years — but no one expected it to actually materialize.

The timing, while at first confusing, made perfect sense after hearing the album. Cudi and West had both been struggling with serious mental-health issues and faced the similar dilemma of maintaining relevance and preserving their respective careers.

“Kids See Ghosts” presents both rappers in full maximalist form, feeling like a culmination of all that they have lived through in the past couple years. Cudi’s trademark hums are majestic, Kanye’s lyrics are wonderfully snappy and absurd, and the kaleidoscopic production incorporates rock, psychedelia and soul.

Confessional, bombastic and concise, “Kids See Ghosts” is exactly what it needs to be without overstaying its welcome, proving that West and Cudi are still dominant.

4. Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”

Radio-friendly pop and country hybrid albums don’t immediately grab the attention of underground music connoisseurs. As pretentious as that may sound, the two genres feel highly entrenched in their ways and don’t offer much room for development due to the narrow-minded determination to sell records.

Kacey Musgraves may not be doing anything new but the way in which she does it is so refreshingly melodic and heartfelt that it would be wrong to ignore. The near universal praise “Golden Hour” has received speaks to Musgraves’ wide-reaching appeal.

Her musings about unhurried living, family relationships, the grandeur of the natural world and the complexity of love are wrapped into lusciously produced and memorable pop songs with a country tinge. Everything about the record is bright and pristine, giving it a youthful energy and airiness that brings a smile to any listener’s face.

“Golden Hour” finds beauty in the mundane and reminds listeners that hopefulness and joyfulness are mentalities that can be found anywhere, anytime.

5. Tirzah, “Devotion”

Rhythm and Blues has had a major resurgence in the past two years with big names such as Frank Ocean, Solange and SZA breathing new life into it and garnering mainstream appeal. The genre is again relevant and the underground has embraced its endless possibility for experimentation.

Tirzah’s debut album “Devotion” is the pinnacle of the emotive and personal capabilities of effective R&B. The songs of “Devotion” discuss love and relationships in a deeply affecting manner, dripping with sensuality, exuding tenderness and conveying a rare sensitivity.

Production-wise, the album only relies on the essentials and is stripped bare of unnecessary flourishes or flashiness, making Tirzah’s delivery the focal point. The minimal instrumentals are impressive due to the amount of emotion that they convey. Tirzah makes the endlessly discussed topic of love seem brand new and explores the consuming nuances of passion.

6. Haley Heynderickx, “I Need to Start a Garden”

It speaks to an artist’s true talent to present themselves to the world with only a guitar in hand and their voice at the ready. Haley Heynderickx is such a musician: captivating in her lonesomeness, but open in discussing her insecurities. Based out of Portland, Ore., her Filipino-American heritage and musical surroundings greatly impacted her songwriting.

On her eight-song debut album, Heynderickx is clearly influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s folk, but also makes it her own. Heynderickx plays in such a way that her finger-picking feels orchestral, and when accompanied by other musicians, she obviously steals the spotlight.

Her unique voice is one of the most exciting to be recorded this year as it oscillates between whispered brokenness and operatic empowerment in seconds. Lyrically, “I Need to Start a Garden” speaks in vivid metaphors as well as confessional testimonials.

Heynderickx has a clear grasp on and appreciation for the range of human emotion, poetically addressing hopefulness and despair alike. She teaches patient self-discovery through the plainly fulfilling endeavor of cultivating a garden that appears in the album. Gardening as a metaphor couldn’t have been more universal or timely, as she presented it as an act of careful and delicate observation that requires the participant to remain fully present to experience.

7. Young Fathers, Cocoa Sugar

It is admittedly hard to make sense of “Cocoa Sugar,” not because it is inaccessible or hard to listen to, but because it is so varied and refuses to allow itself to be pigeonholed into any genre. “Cocoa Sugar” feels like a wonderfully confusing anomaly — one that should not be so melodic or catchy while being so bizarre and hard to define.

Even writing this, it is hard to capture the sonic palette of hip-hop, soul, dub, R&B, pop and countless others that Young Fathers packs into the album. The Scottish trio exists in a league of its own and have a keen, creative vision. “Cocoa Sugar” has a strong sense of immediacy and captures modern struggles with a sociopolitical, religious and ethnic lens while still dancing right at the edge of absurdism.

8. Soccer Mommy, “Clean”

Bedroom pop has been the primary movement within the indie rock community in 2018. Artists with easily accessible technology create music in their bedrooms, leading to a fully defined reverb-drenched, lo-fi rock aesthetic.

Twenty-year-old Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy, was at the beginning of this wave of young, isolated musicians in 2016 and gained a lot of attention in 2017 for her “Collection” compilation.

“Clean” marks Soccer Mommy’s studio debut and the first time her music has been presented with high-quality production. The result is a relatively standoffish jolt of youthful energy that isn’t afraid to show the pain and uncertainty beneath the surface. Loud and uncompromising, these songs have bite.

With one of the most impactful feminist lyrics of the year, Soccer Mommy sings “I don’t wanna be your f—– dog!” in the refrain of “Your Dog,” bursting free and subverting the male gaze, casting it downward. From the sharp hooks to the precise playing and ruminating lyrics, “Clean” is an important addition to the modern canon of female indie rock, proving that the present and future of the genre is female.

9. Earl Sweatshirt, “Some Rap Songs”

On “Some Rap Songs,” 24-year-old Earl Sweatshirt sounds like he has lived through hell and just barely survived to tell the story.

His voice is so deep it rattles, so disengaged it feels concerning and so unsteady that at times it feels uncomfortable. Earl has never been a stranger to explicitly discussing his struggles with depression and mental illness, but on “Some Rap Songs,” the battle is tangible. The anguish and pervasive uncertainty is present in the lyrics and finds a way of being expressed in the production as well.

Earl moves away from the more traditional hip-hop beats of his previous work and explores lo-fi minimalism. Chopping up soul samples and relying heavily on repetition, the instrumentals reflect the cyclic toxicity of his thoughts. The other artistic choice to have no song last over three minutes — and just one song longer than two-and-a-half minutes — gives the effect of hazy transitions, pulling the listener through a series of vignettes and dredged-up memories.

“Some Rap Songs” is an important work that serves as a window into the soul of a tortured artist grappling with fame, sadness and unfulfillment the only way he knows how.

10. Boygenius, “boygenius EP”

Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus …what more needs to be said? Each at the pinnacle of their young careers, the meeting of the minds and talents of these three incredible women produced one of the most emotional and cathartic releases of the year.

Julien Baker, one of the members of boygenius, pours her heart out in a captivating live show.

Album review: “boygenius” is the saddest, most beautiful crossover event in indie music history

Powerfully expressing their vulnerability, the “boygenius EP” feels like a manifesto uniting the broken against heartless lovers and feelings of displaced isolation for the purpose of solidarity and bold empowerment. The three complement each other harmoniously and the EP acts like a spotlight showcasing what makes them great individually but collectively as well.

11. Pusha T, “Daytona”

At seven songs in twenty-one minutes, Pusha T makes every bar count on “Daytona.” In a climate where hip-hop is focused on quantity over quality to boost streaming numbers, Pusha T does the direct opposite and with bravado. With impeccable production by Kanye West, nimble and impactful wordplay and a social consciousness, Pusha T earns his title, “King Push.”

12. Kali Uchis, “Isolation”

Few albums can be described as luscious in the same way as “Isolation” by Kali Uchis. Seamlessly switching between Spanish and English with her voice of pure silk, Uchis embodies the romanticism and tenderness of her lyrics. Not allowing herself to be bound solely by pop or R&B, Uchis delves into G-funk, salsa, hip-hop and electronic across “Isolation.” Whether it is providing a boost of self-empowerment or encouraging a complete break and final stab at a past lover, “Isolation” feels timeless and universal. Uchis’ music is inclusive, varied and an absolute pleasure to listen to.

13. Daughters, “You Won’t Get What You Want”

Brutal, agonizing and abrasive in the best possible way, “You Won’t Get What You Want” is the nihilistic and gritty response to the hellscape that was 2018. Releasing the album after an eight-year hiatus, Daughters added a heightened sense of urgency to their disillusioned cry for help with the timing of their comeback. Disorientingly noisy, startlingly bleak and relentlessly energetic, this album is not for the faint of heart but is a necessity for those feeling restless and dissatisfied with the modern world.

14. Low, “Double Negative”

One of the pioneers of the genre known as slowcore, Low has returned with one of the sparest and most gorgeous albums of their career. Fully utilizing electronics, especially with autotune and creating ambient and noise soundscapes, “Double Negative” moves away from traditional instrumentation and feels extremely modern. The album is best experienced whole and collectively sets a bleak tone. It manages to be one of the most political releases of the year without ever referencing a specific name or topic, an impactful and admirable achievement. Touching on anxieties, waywardness and uncertainty of the digital age, “Double Negative” encapsulates the struggles of 2018.

15. Clarence Clarity, “THINK: PEACE”

Making a perfect pop song with a memorable hook, catchy melody and widespread appeal is not an easy feat for any artist. Clarence Clarity continually pushes the envelope with his wholly unique take on noise pop, making it seem easy in the process. Stretching his voice to the very limits, utilizing densely layered production and finding ways to obviously cite while recontextualizing his influences define “THINK:PEACE.” Clarity succeeds at existing in an unusual sphere where his uncompromising experimentalism serves only to elevate the pop structure and appeal of his music. Clarity’s consistency and talent make him an artist to definitely keep an eye on in the upcoming years.

Album review: The exhilarating strangeness of Clarence Clarity’s “THINK: PEACE”

think peace review illustration edited
Samantha Ford/The Review

16. Julia Holter, “Aviary”

It is impossible to grasp “Aviary” in a single listen. The ambition and complexity of this album makes it feel like a cultural document. Holter combines chamber-pop, medieval, folk, experimental and free-jazz musical styles into a cerebral and challenging experience well worth the hour-and-a-half runtime.

Album review: Julia Holter’s “Aviary” is a modern masterwork

Julia Holter’s “Aviary” is a challenging, refreshing, and wildly eccentric artistic statement.

17. Arctic Monkeys, “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino”

As a massively successful band, there is a lot of pressure to deliver what the fans want when releasing an album. Arctic Monkeys arguably created something no one wanted with “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.” This is not a jab at the album, it’s merely pointing out that no one considered the prospect of the British arena rockers doing a complete 180 and making a lounge-concept album, because who would? The risk of putting out something as ambitious and genuinely strange as “Tranquility Base” cannot be understated and the varied critical reception reflects this. Alex Turner’s rambling, often times nonsensical (and hilarious) lyrics and over-embellished vocal delivery is ingeniously paired with instrumentation obviously inspired by David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” album— a simply magical combination.

18. Parquet Courts, “Wide Awake!”

Becoming one of the big names in the indie community, Parquet Courts’ work ethic and creativity have brought them great success during the ten years that they have been a band. Their seventh album, “Wide Awake!,” is their most accessible but arguably their best to date. Produced by Danger Mouse, the band’s danceability is increased while also sharpening their post-punk edge. Andrew Savage’s wonderfully monotone delivery is totally fitting to the political subject matter of the lyrics. Not succumbing to despair, Parquet Courts finds some shreds of light and conscientiously groove, clearly showing themselves to be in full form.

19. Snail Mail, “Lush”

Baltimore-native Lindsey Jordan is an absolute inspiration. At 19 years old, she has released an EP and a full-length album, traveled the world on tour and garnered more critical acclaim than most musicians achieve in a lifetime. Her debut album, “Lush,” is a straightforward indie-rock album with the perfect blend of overdriven guitar grit, confessional lyricism and DIY sensibility. Jordan speaks and performs well beyond her years and has only just begun what will be a long and successful career.

20. Deafheaven, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”

With each release, Deafheaven only perfects what they do best — combining the unlikely genres of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock into an abrasive yet gorgeous wall of sound. Recently triumphing over struggles with addiction, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love” presents the band in a less desolate light than their previous albums, and reflects their newfound energy and motivation to be masters of their craft.

21. Car Seat Headrest, “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)”

This re-recorded version of Car Seat Headrest’s 2011 album “Twin Fantasy” makes enough significant changes to the original to be eligible for this list. The band took what was a harshly lo-fi album and practiced total maximalism, expanding upon and enhancing all musical arrangements and revising certain lyrics. What resulted from the band’s efforts was a breathing testament to youthful restlessness, helplessness and existential dread that feels urgent and highly relatable.

22. Lucy Dacus, “Historian”

The first thing that is striking about Lucy Dacus is her phenomenal voice — its tenderness and power is perfectly suited to the ebb and flow of heartfelt emotion. There is no shortage of emotion on “Historian,” an album about lost relationships, self-doubt, death, existential dread and humbleness that comes with age and weathering. Dacus is a true poet who weaves together powerful images and narratives into a guitar-driven rock format.

23. Mitski, “Be the Cowboy”

Mitski’s music has always been impeccably written and emotionally driven but something about it has felt incomplete — like she was falling just short of her potential. On “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski finally capitalizes on her strengths and delivers the album she has been capable of since 2014. Her tone is triumphant and her sonic palette is richly varied. The single, “Nobody,” makes listeners bawl while rendering them totally unable to fight the impulse to drop everything and dance. This is just one instance on the album of Mitski discovering and striking to the heart of what moves us as human beings.

24. Against All Logic, “2012-2017”

Against All Logic is the pseudonym of experimental electronic artist Nicolas Jaar, one of the most interesting, unpredictable and inventive figures in the genre. This album is a collection of loose tracks from 2012-2017 that mainly fall into the category of house music. Jaar’s impeccable ear for samples shines through with the joyous soul grooves featured heavily throughout.

25. Rosalia, “El Mal Querer”

This brilliant meeting of traditional Spanish and flamenco music with modern-pop sensibilities is one of the most undeniably catchy releases of the year. Language serves as no barrier for the infectious melodies and powerful delivery of Rosalia.

26. Hovvdy, “Cranberry”

27. Jonny Greenwood, “Phantom Thread OST”

28. Amen Dunes, “Freedom”

29. Kanye West, “Ye”

30. Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born OST”

31. Kississippi, “Sunset Blush”

32. Flasher, “Constant Image”

33. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

34. Travis Scott, “Astroworld”

35. Pinegrove, “Skylight”

“Relationships serve as the overarching theme in ‘Skylight’ — be it personal, environmental, between friends or between lovers.”

Album review: Rebirth and renewal on Pinegrove’s “Skylight”

36. Brockhampton, “iridescence”

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38. Jon Hopkins, “Singularity”

39. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, “Sparkle Hard”

40. Sons of Kemet, “Your Queen is a Reptile”

41. Black Belt Eagle Scout, “Mother of my Children”

42. Jeff Tweedy, “WARM”

43. Eli Keszler, “Stadium”

44. Screaming Females, “All at Once”

45. DJ Healer, “Nothing 2 Loose”

46. US Girls, “In a Poem Unlimited”

47. Forth Wanderers, “Forth Wanderers”

48. Death Grips, “Year of the Snitch”

49. Let’s Eat Grandma, “I’m All Ears”

50. The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me”

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