2018 has been a strange year. In particular, I found myself really struggling over my selections for Album Of The Year. That’s not due to a lack of overall quality, each album on this list was fantastic and easy to recommend. Instead, I believe it’s because I feel all of my expectations were subverted. A high amount of my highly anticipated records this year didn’t deliver, for example, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Man Of The Woods’ was one of my most highly anticipated records, yet he managed to spectacularly under deliver.
Not to mention the emphasis on shorter albums and EP’s this year has also been both a surprise and detriment to my list. Kanye West’s ‘ye’ for example is incredibly brief at seven tracks. It does include a few outstanding tracks (‘Ghost Town’, ‘No Mistakes’) yet the first three songs drastically ruin the project as a whole. Meanwhile, ‘My Dear Melancholy’ by The Weeknd is an outstanding release but is such a short EP, I simply can’t justify placing it alongside full-length records.
Surprisingly though, In a year which highly anticipated projects have underwhelmed, I feel like it has been a very strong year for debut records and emerging new artists which you’ll see listed below. In terms of overall genre, I’ve found myself surprised, a lot of records have embraced styles I would have never imagined. Refreshingly, it has also been an incredible year for female crafted music. Overall I can’t recommend these records enough and even if they may not be too your exact taste, I at least implore you to take a listen (especially to a simply terrific top 5 this year).
Mumford & Sons
Release Date: 16th November 2018
Label: Gentlemen Of The Road / Island Records
On their fourth record, Mumford & Sons truly perplexed me. They’ve certainly achieved their lofty ambitions of stripping the ‘banjo boys’ label on the genre-less ‘Delta’. An emphatic mix of folk, alternative rock and even ambient music. The astonishing title track has a progressive, triumphant sound, unlike anything they’ve attempted. Each song refuses to stand still, transforming and twisting into new forms notably the grandiose finale of ‘The Wild’. It’s an impressive statement that showcases a real desire to grow and evolve as a group that shouldn’t be ignored and deserves a place on this list.
Release Date: 9th November 2018
Label: Warner Bros.
I surprised myself by the inclusion of ‘Simulation Theory’, Its long build up throughout the year resulted in the release of forgettable after forgettable single, or so I thought. As a whole, this record is truly bonkers, it embraces its cheesy 80’s aesthetic in spectacular fashion. A homage to decades gone by, the record is a bombastic mix of space gospel ‘Dig Down’, heavy riffs ‘Pressure’ and god knows what you’d call the euro-pop infused ‘Get Up And Fight’. It’s just simply; a crazy fun record which sees Muse for the first time in years, finally not taking themselves too seriously.
Release Date: 1st June 2018
Label: Island Records
Ben Howard has slowly transformed from award-winning pop-folk star to moody, experimental alternative artist over the past decade. Its fair to say his material now paints a vastly different picture from when he started, yet he’s never sounded so refreshed and full of ideas before. ‘Noonday Dream’ is a heavy, yet beautiful record. When reviewing it earlier this year we said; “A foreboding sense of uneasiness flows throughout the albums 51-minute runtime, with only just 9 proper full-length tracks Howard still manages to take you on a journey that seemingly lasts a lifetime. it’s an exhausting yet rewarding listen. It's the soundtrack to a long wander through a scorching desert with its conclusion being the point you finally uncover the oasis you’ve been searching for.” this sense of reward yet struggle is presented perfectly by the progressive, wonderful ‘Nicha Libres At Dusk’.
Release Date: 17th August 2018
Label: Republic Records
'Sweetener' is an uplifting pop record that showcases how an inspirational young woman has managed to overcome a challenging few years. Featuring some of her most stunning vocal arrangements to date with ‘God is a woman’ and some triumphant pieces of therapeutic pop in the form of ‘no tears left to cry’ and ‘breathin’. Grande’s fourth album is certainly her most ambitious. However, unfortunate lapses in quality, due to painful Pharrell production which lets the overall standard of the record down. Nevertheless, its strengths, such as the glorious ‘goodnight n go’ undeniably elevate the record into one of the finest released this year.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS
KIDS SEE GHOSTS
Release Date: 8th June 2018
Label: G.O.O.D Music / Def Jam
I wasn’t instantly enamoured by the Kids See Ghosts debut (the title of the collaboration between Kid Cudi and Kanye West) unlike the majority of the hip-hop faithful community. Instead, it unravelled itself and grew on me throughout the year. A few months on, I found myself starting to really pay attention to the incredible production, symbolism and just pure emotion poured into the record. ‘Reborn’ for me is a strong contender for single of the year, a beautiful tale about the recovery process of mental illness and general adversity. Kid Cudi and Kanye lay themselves completely bare on the track and the results are a revelation. Another sublime standout is ‘Cudi Montage’ which invokes Nirvana in a truly revolutionary new way, that actually feels like a respectful continuation of the group unlike many of the other interpretations of Cobain’s music before it. This is surrounded by a collection of interesting hip-hop singles that complete the strongest record of the G.O.O.D music summer.
Release Date: 21st September 2018
Label: Question Everything Inc. / RCA
BROCKHAMPTON dominated 2017 with three whole albums worth of material, in 2018 they went stratospheric, alongside success however usually comes the controversy and interest. After sexual assault allegations saw Ameer Van leave the group the rest of the 16-piece collective regrouped at Abbey Road studios to create their first major release ‘Iridescence’.
With only ten days creation put into the record, you can really feel the raw energy and mix of ideas swirled into the album. It constantly fluctuates and bends genre norms to the extreme, part gospel, part hip-hop, part rock album. It’s messy yet beautiful at the same time, especially when combined with its incredible production. Each track is unpredictable, but always exciting, such as the ferocious opening track ‘NEW ORLEANS’. The most striking aspect, however, is the sublime three track finale, the finest run of tracks on any record this year ‘SAN MARCOS’ is beautiful and its choir finale is incredible, ‘TONYA’ is dark and powerful whilst ‘FABRIC’ combines both the tracks and elements alongside an intense drum led rhythm to create the best album conclusion hip-hop has ever seen.
Release Date: 9th November 2018
Tommy Genesis is an enigma. The self-titled debut from the sometimes outrageous, yet always interesting Canadian rapper is a bold statement and a compelling concept record which presents one artist in two truly distinctive ways. From the brash and brave ‘Tommy’ side which paints this ‘bad girl’ image with catchy rap/pop hits such as ‘100 Bad’ and ‘Tommy’ to its more softer and contemplative ‘Genesis’ side which showcases a talented young woman with a range of emotions and styles including the delightfully catchy and inventive ‘You Know Me’. It is a record which has flown under quite a few peoples radars. Give it time and your attention though and for certain, you won't be able to ignore the captivating presence of Tommy Genesis.
Release Date: 26th October 2018
Label: Konichiwa / Interscope
It’s been eight very long years since we were graced with a Robyn record. ‘Honey’ thankfully did not disappoint, it did, however, surprise with its mix of downtempo introspective dance music alongside experimental beats and song structures. She may not be pumping out dancefloor smashes but her melancholy infused pop is simply remarkable. ‘Missing U’ turns the entire concept of grief on its head with her yearning pleas pouring a plethora of emotions into the record. ‘Honey’ is delectably sweet, the progressive beat and melody on ‘Send To Robin Immediately’ is outstanding and every single aspect of closing track ‘Ever Again’ is just incredible.
A Star Is Born (OST)
Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper
Release Date: 5th October 2018
Country, Synth-pop, Rock, Jazz... A Star Is Born effortlessly moulded all these together into an outstanding soundtrack, all whilst reigniting the career of Lady Gaga. Who, now approaching the end of a decade in the industry was encountering her own slump, not creatively but commercially as audiences seemed to pass by her recent studio albums. ‘A Star Is Born’ is in fact not too dissimilar to her last record, ‘Joanne’ (also produced by hitmaker Mark Ronson). What it lacked, however, was the electric chemistry with co-star Bradley Cooper which truly propels this record into becoming one of the most memorable releases of the year.
Mega-hit duet ‘Shallow’ maybe the first song that comes to your mind, and rightfully so, that hair rising Gaga crescendo is a truly iconic moment of 2018, yet its the hidden surprises and quieter moments which really stand out on the album. ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ is simply heartbreaking, you’ll struggle not to choke up during those final moments as Coopers voice cracks and Gaga sheds a tear.
The Now Now
Release Date: 29th June 2018
Label: Parlophone / Warner Bros.
Damon Albarn refuses to stand still, even for a moment. Whilst touring last years ‘Humanz’, the long-awaited yet guest-heavy return from his experimental rock/hip-hop hybrid Gorillaz, Albarn was busy crafting new material. Its the most isolated he has allowed a Gorillaz album to be in years, with only fleeting yet stellar appearances from the likes of legendary soul musician ‘George Benson’ who offers his guitar skills to the funky ‘Humility’ and longtime collaborator Snoop Dogg rhyming on ‘Hollywood’. The record truly excels when it takes some surprising turns ‘Magic City’ feels like the natural successor to ‘Andromeda’ from the previous record and likewise is the standout track here. ‘Idaho’ is a yodelling success and Albarn’s knack for a heartfelt ballad means we’re treated to the beautiful ‘Fireflies’. No matter what form Gorillaz appears in, Albarn and co. continue to excite, despite being the complete contrast to last years record ‘The Now Now’ is still a wondrous listen.
Big Red Machine
Big Red Machine
Release Date: 31st August 2018
An album which I feel has flown under the radar of quite a few people this year. Big Red Machine, like Kids See Ghosts, is an unexpected combination of two artists who are creating some of the most exciting, boundary-shattering music of their respective genres. In this case its the ever transformative Justin Vernon of Bon Iver who manages to meld all of his varying sounds into one thrilling new project. His vocals flex between the styles of his most recent experimentation in vocoders on the explicit and surprising ‘Gratitude’ all the way back to the folk influences of his early work on the beautifully defiant ‘I Won’t Run From It’ and gospel inspirations from '22, A Million' on the soul-scorching ‘Melt’.
He is joined by Aaron Dessner, of alternative darlings The National. A man who is equally open to exploring music in unconventional ways and has a remarkable eye for a composition, its these skills and his ability to craft symphonies which I believe is a key component in unlocking these new and exciting sounds the duo have achieved, such as on the mind-bending mixture of jazz and folk resonating from ‘Hymnostic’.
EVERYTHING IS LOVE
Release Date: 16th June 2018
Label: Parkwood / Sony / Roc Nation
Dropping at the end of two sold-out nights at London’s Olympic Stadium, it was a shocking yet long-awaited collaborative album from the worlds most powerful couple, Jay Z and Beyonce. A pair of artists who have only just released some of the strongest material of their careers with ‘4:44’ and ‘Lemonade’ respectively. ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’ is the closing chapter on the trilogy of infidelity and tabloid drama which has plagued the couple over the past few years, whether its a genuine turmoil and hardship in the relationship or just clever marketing we may never know, but the resulting music is marvellous.
‘Everything Is Love’ is a very satisfying, summery conclusion to all the drama. The record has been produced to the highest standards, with rich, luxurious beats that give the record a decadent feeling. A record which brings a new definition to grandiose. The standout highlight has to be ‘APESHIT’, the very heavily trap influenced track is an absolute anthem, with a refreshingly intense aggressiveness. It also sees for the first time Beyonce swapping bars with her spouse, and at points even handing his ass to him on a plate with her slick rhymes. This is a significant record not just in terms of their relationship but in terms of the history of hip-hop. When both these icons step up their game, no one can compare.
Invasion Of Privacy
Release Date: 5th April 2018
At first, I really struggled to take Cardi B seriously. Way back when ’Bodak Yellow’ dominated the charts towards the end of last year. Introducing the world to ex-stripper, aspiring rapper Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar. It wasn’t till I pressed play on her debut record ‘Invasion Of Privacy’ and heard the extraordinary statement of intent ‘Get Up 10’ with its whip-smart lyrics, dripping in confidence and arrogance did my ears finally perk up. “I waited my whole life just to shit on niggas, Climbed to the top floor so I can spit on niggas”, “I started gettin' money, bitches upset (cash), They remind me of my pussy, bitches mad tight”. These outrageous lyrics are only matched by her personality which takes centre stage on the record. What really impresses is though, is that the album doesn’t follow a formula or stick to one style. She goes hard on the opening tracks, interpolates Lauryn Hill in the middle on moving ballad ‘Be Careful’, makes a reggaton smash on ‘I Like It’ and then embraces female solidarity towards the finale with a couple of terrific collaborations with Kehlani on ‘Ring’ and SZA on ‘I Do’. A refreshing mix of old school hip-hop and modern chart hits, this record like Cardi herself, demands to be heard.
High As Hope
Florence + The Machine
Release Date: 29th June 2018
Label: Virgin EMI Records
Up till now, Florence Welch has stormed the charts with her Machine and their bombastic, grandiose mixture of epic power ballads and festival singalongs. On her fourth record, Welch looks inwards and her struggles with sobriety to craft her most personal and intimate record yet, with outstanding results. Epic, grandiose lead single ‘Hunger’ is the outlier, it's utterly fantastic and one of the best songs of the year, yet its the only time Welch leans on her proven formula. The rest of the album focuses on expansive melodies and songs that build into unexpected conclusions. The tribute to her adolescence and roots on South London Forever is a beautiful highlight, as is the deeply personal, autobiographical apology to her sister ‘Grace’ with its thundering conclusion.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Release Date: 16th November 2018
Label: Studio 13
No record this year has perfectly encapsulated the Britain we presently live in than ‘Merrie Land’ from Damon Albarn’s supergroup ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’. I’ve consistently praised this record since its release last month and for good reason. Albarn has managed to take a step back and analyse the country from a completely different perspective. A nation yearning for a sense of patriotism it only achieved medievals past in the history books. Nothing sums up this feeling more than the poetic musings of the title track, its melodies infused with epic carnival melodies that further paint the picture as Albarn a ringmaster of this circus we call Brexit.
Release Date: 6th April 2018
Label: Rinse / Virgin / Universal
“It cannot be understated how remarkable of a debut Uchis has crafted here, after six years of waiting for a solid and cohesive collection of material to match the early acclaimed mixtapes, Uchis doesn’t only deliver, she continues to exceed expectations.” Is what we said when we gave Kali’s marvellous debut a full 5-star rating back in April. Since then the record has only grown on me, maturing like a fine wine.
With a collection of very impressive guest features, The Internets Steve Lacy on standout ‘Just A Stranger’, rising British talent Jorja Smith on ‘Tyrant’ and critically acclaimed Tyler, The Creator joining Bootsy Collins for the nostalgia-infused ‘After The Storm’. All of these are significant and superb contributions but it's in fact, Uchis herself who demands your attention and shines the brightest. ‘Feel Like A Fool’ is a confident and as we said previously “delightfully dark doo-wop full of intense imagery which you can easily vision being sung by The Supremes with its Motown inspired beats and chorus, but then you’re caught off guard by the macabre lyrics of Uchis, as she vividly describes her heart being shredded by a lover whose ‘cigarette burned holes through my T-shirt’ all whilst singing with a chirpy demeanour.”
One song however which has gripped me and refused to let go is ’Dead To Me’, another outstanding song which combines all of Uchis standout features, her sultry demeanour, clever lyricism and nostalgic melodies which all helped her craft one of the most significant debut records of the year, it may have taken nearly six years to make but it was more than worth the wait.
Release Date: 12th January 2018
Label: Epic / SYCO
Back in January, Camila Cabello’s debut shocked me. I had heard a few Fifth Harmony songs, but I never acknowledged the band as anything more than Simon Cowell’s attempt at once more achieving the immense success of X Factor's Little Mix, but this time Stateside. At the start of 2017, Camila departed the group claiming restrictions on creativity and not being able to use her own written songs. By the end of the year, she had usurped all of the groups' previous success when she released the global dominating ‘Havana’ a pop smash heavily influenced by her Cuban roots.
Its success inspired Camila to completely reshape her self-titled debut which released at the start of 2018. Now with a co-writing credit to each of the records 10 tracks, any worries of a lack of creative control were out of the window. The resulting album is not just the most authentic pop record released this year but its songs have managed to stay fresh and exciting even as we head into the new year.
By keeping the debuts length down to a concise ten tracks, Cabello has managed to put quality firmly over quantity with outstanding results. Each song has its own unique identity, ’Never Be The Same’ is the mature breakthrough, elevating her from girl to woman with its references to drugs and sultry vocals. ‘Consequences’ is the moving ballad, acting as the heart of the record. ‘Into It’ is a surprise, sensual smash which evokes early Rihanna with its imagery of a good girl gone bad and then you have the experimental pop songs which blend acoustic elements, balladry and even full-on dance rhythms with impressive results, none much more so than ‘Real Friends’. In a year in which quite a few contemporary pop stars have faltered, Camila’s debut shines bright and her future looks even brighter.
Christine & The Queens
Release Date: 21st September 2018
“Chris!” exclaims Dam-Funk on lead single ‘Girlfriend’, Its the first word we heard from Christine & The Queens sophomore record, it's also the title and name of Héloïse Letissier (Christine & The Queens) alter ego, and our introduction to the persona is it being sung like an ’80s infused ad-lib. By the end of the record, you'll realise its much more of an apt metaphor than you could have previously imagined.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Christine & The Queens has just invented a gimmicky persona. It’s so much more than that. Like David Bowie before her, Chris is a spearhead for an underrepresented minority who have welcomed her in with open arms. The resulting record is both equally empowering and refreshing, despite its nostalgic leanings back to the eighties.
Chris however, manages to turn these influences on their heads. ‘5 dollars’ is the perfect example of this, a breath of fresh air to the pop charts yet interlaced with sharp undercurrents of deja vu. You’ll find yourself joyously dancing and singing along to a sound that feels frighteningly familiar yet delightfully different. A juxtaposition as sharp as the blend of French and English that fluctuates throughout, even though the main release is mainly in the English language, the French songstresses roots are firm and ever present in songs such as ‘Comme Si’ and ‘Goya Soda’. It's this modern blend of cultures, beliefs and sounds which makes ‘Chris’ such a defining record as well as person of the year.
Release Date: 30th March 2018
Label: MCA Nashville
Upon its release, I described ‘Golden Hour’ as “a galactic country-pop masterpiece” and that “never has the sound of synthesisers and pedal-steel guitars melded so well together before.” Since then the record has only grown on me more. The third record from Grammy award-winning, ‘New Nashville’ country star Kacey Musgraves treads new ground not just for the singer but for the genre as a whole. A record that elevates her music from her small-town trailer park girl beginnings into a married woman looking out into the world from an existential perspective, There’s no doubt the multiple dabbles in acid helped achieve that outlook but nonetheless its helped craft some of the most exciting music of the year.
In terms of its genre, it's an exciting and experimental masterpiece. The sound of pedal steel and acoustic guitars are muddled and mixed in with vocoders and Musgraves soothing vocals, this is all intertwined with incredible production. Listening through the entirety of the record, you feel that an immense sense of care and delicacy has been placed into painstakingly crafting this album by Musgraves. The record is a true labour of love, a cohesive masterpiece, with every detail and its tracklisting meticulously laid out in advance.
When it comes to standout tracks, its hard not to praise each and every single one. Album opener ‘Slow Burn’ sets the scene perfectly, a spacious and ethereal autobiographical ballad “Haven’t been early since 88” sings Musgraves as she plays on her untimely nature yet premature birth, its a smart, wistful lyric in a record full of them. ‘Oh, What A World’ is Daft Punk meets Country in a galactic mash-up as Musgraves blends vivid imagery with vocoders and an astounding chorus. ‘High Horse’ throws country references, disco influences and a touch of Chic together to give an unnamed egomaniac a good kicking off of their high horse. ‘Happy & Sad’ is just as juxtaposing as the title suggests with melancholic and poetic verses intertwined with a yearning and emphatic chorus. I haven’t even got around to mentioning lead singles ‘Space Cowboy’ and ‘Butterflies’ which both use creative metaphors to describe heartbreak in the former and finding true love in the latter.
‘Golden Hour’ is truly Musgraves shining moment and is not just a defining moment in her career but in the genre as a whole.
First Aid Kit
Release Date: 19th January 2018
So here it is… the album of 2018.
Without a doubt, there has not been another record released in the past few years that's been filled with such raw and beautiful emotion in the way ‘Ruins’ has been. Combining sorrow and heartbreak with a surprising mix of closure and love. It's a rollercoaster of emotion, but with 'Ruins' the Soderberg's have managed to create a record in which you truly feel every single high and low of it.
Most impressive of all though is the fact that nearly a year on since the record's release, when I press play, I'm still finding that the record stirs up all those emotions inside of me again. This incredible emotional power is due to how authentic every lyric and melody feels. It's an album which is not just honest to the girls' feelings, but one that is full of relatable connections and emotions that the listener can engage with.
After extensive touring following the release of the previous record ‘Stay Gold’ the sisters found themselves facing different paths and desires. This lead to a tumultuous few years in which Klara endured the breakdown of her engagement and saw a rift emerge both in location and emotion between her and sister Johanna for the first time in their lives. These feelings of deep hurt and separation are embedded throughout the record.
There wouldn’t have been a new album, however, if the girls had never found each other again. What makes the record so special and gives it that authenticity is the way in which the sisters have reunited and processed their separation so beautifully. Most notably, with tracks such as the phenomenal 50’s style doo-wop ‘Fireworks’ and the incredibly intimate and personal ‘To Live A Life’ with its tale of isolation that wrenches at your heart. What really sets this record apart from other albums centred on a relationship and family sorrows though, is the glint of hope and optimism which lingers throughout.
All of this culminates in the strongest material of the Swedish sisters' career. I genuinely wondered how they would manage to top ‘Stay Gold’ but sonically ‘Ruins’ sounds so much richer and deeper than ever before. They’ve also included a much more varied collection of instrumentation. This is accompanied by a whole new improved level of production from the phenomenal Tucker Martine. And of course, you can’t speak about a First Aid Kit album without mentioning their wondrous harmonies which sound even stronger and in tune with each other than ever before.
There’s also freedom and desire to try new concepts and ideas throughout the record, this leads to songs such as ‘Rebel Heart’ which includes a full-on Heart styled acoustic rock breakdown, never has heartbreak sounded so defiant before. This is swiftly followed by the delightful lead single ‘It’s A Shame’ a glorious Fleetwood Mac style pop song which once again flips the breakup formula in a completely different way. Its lighthearted attitude that briskly encourages you to move onto pastures new is a welcome and joyful twist.
The previously mentioned ‘Fireworks’ is utterly gorgeous, overflowing with 50’s nostalgia. The track soothes into your brain and fills it with images of slow dances and ballrooms. The most experimental and exciting material though is tucked towards the back end of the record, with songs such as ‘Hem Of Her Dress’. “a song which perfectly mixes melancholic yet thoughtful lyrics on heartbreak. Starting out as a ballad that’s reflecting on times gone, however with one simple, yet incredible transition, the track change’s into an epic singalong reminiscent of ‘Hey Jude’ that ends with celebrating change and moving on.” Finally, concluding track ‘Nothing Has To Be True’ completely throws the rules of their folk framework out of the window. A progressive rock song which builds to a screeching and thunderous crescendo, that even now, still completely blows me away.
Simply put, ‘Ruins’ is a spectacular album. Since reconnecting, the sisters' relationship is undeniably stronger than ever. Their harmonies are finely tuned, now embedded with an indescribable amount of raw emotion, and the resulting tracks are like diary entries peaking into someone's heart and life, providing you with an honest connection that you can’t help but empathise with. I can’t recommend this record enough.
‘Ruins’ is the album of 2018.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through our picks for the best albums released in 2018. Just to the side you’ll find a handpicked selection of 2 tracks from each of our 20 albums to listen and follow.
Please, offer your opinions in the comments below. Discuss our album choices and share with friends to see what they think.
But most importantly, Thanks for reading this list and for an incredible 2018… We can’t wait to see what this new year has in store for both our readers and the site.