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Top 25 Albums of 2018 (So Far)

It's already been a wild and unpredictable run of game-changing surprises

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Janelle Monae, photo by Philip Cosores
Janelle Monae — Photo by Philip Cosores

    Half of 2018 is nearly in the bank. Of what we’ve seen, most would agree it’s been a bit of everything, some of which we could never have predicted: dazzling debuts, raucous returns, experimental episodes, political pushbacks, veterans avoiding the well, the proper hip-hop album bloat and shrink, several thrones ascended to, and, most importantly, substance and style seizing the day over spectacle.

    As of now, these are the 25 albums we’re most thankful for so far in 2018. Will we still love them six months from now? That becomes the next daunting question and one whose answer will only come with time and more listening. They say that the heart’s a moving target, so agree with us or not, let’s plan on meeting back here come mid-November, and see how many of these albums still aim true.

    –Matt Melis
    Editorial Director


    Jack White - Boarding House Reach25. Jack White – Boarding House Reach

    Origin: Detroit, Michigan

    The Gist: After all of these years, Jack White finally writes the freewheelin’ album of his dreams with Boarding House Reach. This isn’t surprising: Months before its release, the Third Man teased that it would be a “bizarre” outing, and the album is just that. It’s a freak train of sounds initially conceived on an ancient reel-to-reel while White tinkered about in a small Nashville apartment. The end result is anything but seclusive, though, and might just be the singer-songwriter’s most expansive effort yet.

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    Why It Rules: Well, it’s a mess, but the chaos is intriguing. That’s key, seeing how the Jack White brand was becoming a tad predictable. Ever since the guy went off by his lonesome, he’s been issuing songs that could either be filed under The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather. Boarding House Reach says to hell with all of that, carving out a new chapter for the Detroit bad boy, right down to the brilliantly effeminate album cover. Who knew the perfectionist stumbled perfectly. –Michael Roffman


    Superorganism24. Superorganism – Superorganism

    Origin: London, UK

    The Gist: This East London eight-member collective of Very Online musicians bring a fresh sense of lighthearted fun to their self-titled debut album, entwining sound effects and audio clips with danceable melodies and a razor-sharp attention to detail. Lead vocalist Orono Noguchi cites Stephen Malkmus and Pavement as influences on her songwriting and delivery, and it’s not hard to hear the distant strains of the ’90s running through this otherwise thoroughly modern-sounding album.

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    Why It Rules: Superorganism is as perfect a distillation of disparate influences into effortless indie pop as you’re bound to find this year. Equally perfect for a dance party with friends or one by yourself, songs like “Nobody Cares” — which manages to be both grunge-influenced and bouncing — and the meticulously crafted “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” envelop the listener in a sunny sonic world where all the choruses are singable, and nothing seems that bad. It’s all wrapped up in a bow of meticulous production and playful experimentation, charting a bold, new course for where indie pop might be headed in the next few years and beyond. –Katherine Flynn


    Kanye West - ye23. Kanye West- ye

    Origin: Chicago, Illinois

    The Gist: As the second album in GOOD Music’s five-album May/June takeover, ye finds Kanye West plumbing his psyche and apparent bipolar diagnosis over just seven songs in 24(ish) minutes. Guest features are mostly relegated to the hooks, while the beats—no matter how warm—are in constant mutation, leaving West to spew his numerous contradictions in real time. He confesses thoughts of indiscriminate love and murder in the opening track (“I Thought About Killing You”), places a cringey yet infectious sex jam alongside a tribute to his wife (“All Mine” and “Wouldn’t Leave”), and—with some help from PARTYNEXTDOOR, Kid Cudi, and MVP newcomer 070 Shake—transforms mental anguish into freedom on “Ghost Town”.

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    Why It Rules: Upon first listen, ye felt somewhat slight—more of a surface-level observation about one’s own mental health than a full-on dissection. But with every spin, it becomes clear that it was never meant to be a dissection. It was never meant to be a dissertation. Instead, West simply documents his own thoughts and views as he’s having them. It’s that lack of curation that makes ye raw, authentic, and—with his best production since 2013’s Yeezus across less than a half hour—highly listenable. Granted, you have to be interested in Ye the man to get any kind of enjoyment out of ye the album. And yes, that means being willing to reconcile his political ignorance, astronomical ego, and problematic messaging with his greatness as an artist. He doesn’t offer answers for any of the more troubling aspects of his personality on ye. He just continues to experience them. –Dan Caffrey


    22. Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

    Origin: Laguna Beach, California

    The Gist: Another brilliant addition to a brilliant discography by this unnaturally talented rock artist. Freedom’s Goblin feels like listening to Ty Segall’s mp3 library on shuffle, as we hit on florid psychedelia, steaming garage rock, proto-metal, weepy folk, and R&B grooves. Is that the iTunes visualizer we see, or did he slip something into our drink?

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    Why It Rules: Never underestimate the power of having a great band at your disposal. With The Freedom Band in his corner — an all-star ensemble that includes bassist Mikal Cronin and Cairo Gang leader Emmett Kelly — Ty Segall can now truly go for broke in his songwriting and playing. And what comes from that power and flexibility is a downright indulgent collection of songs, like going for the popcorn upgrade at the snack counter because it’s only 50 cents more for a jumbo. This album is equally luxuriant and filling, with one of Segall’s most heartfelt ballads and his nastiest riffs nestled cozily together. –Robert Ham


    Father John Misty's God's Favorite Customer Artwork21. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

    Origin: Rockville, Maryland

    The Gist: Josh Tillman’s alter ego, Father John Misty, set out to discover himself and scoff at the world at large on Pure Comedy, but in doing so, he almost lost the woman he won over throughout the course of I Love You, Honeybear, leaving him broken, manic, and lost as he attempts to find his way back home.

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    Why It Rules: Over his last three releases, the line has become more than blurred between Tillman and his alter ego, never more so than on God’s Favorite Customer, an extremely honest portrayal of Misty’s – and likely Tillman’s – marital problems. The end result sees Misty at his most desperate, heartbroken state, making a solid comedown record that doesn’t quite hit the profound highs of its predecessors, but gets carried quite a long way on the back of its honest songwriting. –Steven Edelstone


    Natalie Prass -- The Future and the Past20. Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past

    Origin: Richmond, Virginia

    The Gist: “Keep your sisters close/ You gotta keep your sisters close to ya,” sing the backing vocalists on “Sisters”, the seventh track on Natalie PrassThe Future and the Past. It’s a perfect, exemplary moment for Prass’ more R&B-influenced sophomore effort, a collection of songs that are the product of some careful reworking after the election of Donald Trump. Prass has reflected deeply on this particular cultural and political moment and distilled it into a portrait of a fighter who is determined not to lose herself, give up hope, or become any less human in the process.

    Why It Rules: Prass is a deft and precise songwriter, but the big orchestrations featured on The Future and the Past, a natural progression from her very produced debut, are the real showstoppers here. Even on more minimalist tracks like “Hot for the Mountain”, lounge guitar licks, piano chords, and steady rhythms assert themselves under Prass’ airy vocals, creating earworms that will stick in your head for days. On top of these sounds are bigger ideas than the ones Prass worked through on 2015’s Natalie Prass; “Ain’t Nobody” tackles reproductive rights while “Ship Go Down” combats the feeling of helplessness engendered by endless, terrifying news notifications. It’s a hopeful record for a hopeless time. –Katherine Flynn


    sob-rbe-gangin19. SOB x RBE – Gangin

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    Origin: Vallejo, California

    The Gist: Vallejo rap quartet SOB x RBE (the “x” is silent) capitalize on their standout collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on the Black Panther soundtrack, the frenzied “Paramedic!”, with a second album that may as well be their first. Young, hungry, and ready to take on the world, GANGIN is that pivotal moment where they could evolve from stars in the making to just plain stars. Or supernovas.

    Why It Rules: Despite topping off at a potentially unwieldy four members, each quarter of SOB x RBE carves out a distinct vocal identity on GANGIN. And rather than bank on the trap leanings currently washing over Atlanta, they take a note from Vallejo forefather E-40 with beats that hearken back to the trunk-rattling ’90s. The allure of GANGIN lies not in what SOB x RBE are saying, but how they’re saying it. The throwback production and relentless energy of the group’s four MCs set them apart from their more leaned-out, chilled-out brethren on the opposite coast. Supernovas indeed. –Dan Caffrey


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    Courtney Barnett's Tell Me How You Really Feel

    18. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

    Origin: Melbourne, Australia

    The Gist: Unassuming Aussie rock star Courtney Barnett returned with her second full-length record, as insightful, off-kilter, and melodic as ever. Barnett has always been a beautifully idiosyncratic wordsmith. Her lyrics are wry, personal, and sometimes painfully sincere. With Tell Me How You Really Feel, she pushes her sound forward while still retaining her identity, establishing that she’s an artist with enough talent and nuance to have a long and powerful career.

    Why It Rules: On Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett is fed the fuck up. Tracks like “Hopefulessness” and “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence” are a beautiful expansion of her trademark insight into being an anxious wreck, but single “Nameless, Faceless” and the scorching “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” are the fulcrum of the record, which dives into the psychological consequences of existing as a woman in the world while finding a way to end on a gentle and deeply human note, rather than a bitter one. –Kayleigh Hughes


    17. Lucy Dacus – Historian

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    Origin: Norfolk, Virginia

    The Gist: Historian is a massive achievement, a devastating but gorgeous musical examination of memory, loss, and identity. Lucy Dacus has always been a clever and reliable indie rock singer-songwriter, and Historian displays how she has absolutely blossomed as a musician and storyteller.

    Why It Rules: Dacus’ voice is pure even as it trembles, even as it betrays longing and heartbreak. Throughout Historian, the super-smart singer is able to deeply intellectualize her experiences while still loading them with raw emotional immediacy. She’s thoughtful, committed to telling this story and interrogating these painful truths, hopefully turning them into songs more beautiful and clear than the difficult experiences that she’s working from. As a musician, Dacus keeps herself brilliantly reserved until just the right moments, skillfully employing absences of sound so as to make the surging fuzz of a guitar and the swell of her voice hit the listener like a landslide. –Kayleigh Hughes


    16. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

    Origin: Leesburg, Virginia

    The Gist: “Hi, my name is Will Toledo. I’m that kid you hated in grade school who could just fly by the seat of his pants and get those gold stars you spent mornings and nights pining over. Want proof? I just took an old album of mine and managed to deliver one of this year’s better rock albums. It’s okay if you hate my guts for being naturally prolific because you’ll absolutely love my music. See you around, folks.” Yeah, that pretty much explains Twin Fantasy (Face to Face).

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    Why It Rules: All joking aside, Toledo is the type of singer-songwriter that critics used to champion on a weekly basis during the glory days of ’80s college rock. He’s like a young Gordon Gano, kicking out sprawling songs like the nearly 14-minute epic, “Beach Life-in-Death”, or the 16-minute saga of “Famous Prophets (Stars)”, that reach for the stars without having to stand up. Again, that may irritate you, but those hooks demand nothing but love. Hey, at the end of the day, we’re all just nervous young humans. –Michael Roffman


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