What 2018 lacked in tolerance and respect for human decency, it more than made up for in brilliant, innovative music from visionary artists of all stripes. Welcome to Qrewcial’s very first countdown of the top 10 records of the past year. Here’s a look at the best albums of 2018:
Sweeping in scope, unflinchingly personal, and unapologetically queer, Transangelic Exodus sends the life story of the Chicago native bursting forth in flashes of light, heat, and drama. Using the connecting narrative of a pair of humans transitioning into angels, Furman strings together a series of vivid biographical vignettes rife with anxious passion. The music is riveting, striking a sweet spot between the high-stakes young-love poetics of Springsteen and the post-industrial angst of Trent Reznor. “I am shattered, I am bleeding, but God damn it, I am alive,” he sings on “Peel My Orange Every Morning.” Here’s hoping his journey takes him to a place where he’ll no longer have to bleed.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Deafheaven is audio catharsis made flesh. The San Francisco blackgaze outfit has spent nearly a decade chasing and creating some of the loudest, most gorgeous sounds ever committed to tape. With Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, the group further expands its musical palate to include hints of country twang (“You Without End”), Eno-esque ambient atmospherics (“Canary Yellow”) and piano-laden chamber-folk (the Chelsea Wolfe-featuring “Night People”). All the while, the band never lose sight of their core vision. They fuel their colossal sonic explorations with swirling guitar riffs, thunderous drums, and the shivery howl of frontman George Clarke. Their ability to simultaneously melt the face and shatter the heart remains unparalleled. It’s an intense, rapturous document of love and loss that’s best experienced at top volume.
Some Rap Songs
Tan Cressida / Columbia
Thebe Kgositsele’s fourth full-length might clock in at a slim 24 minutes, but it’s far from a back-to-basics record for the erstwhile Odd Future star. Recorded following a period of isolation in the wake of predecessor I Don’t Like Shit…, Some Rap Songs is practically its own genre. It takes us on a jazzy, scrappy, no-frills adventure through the busy mind of its creator. Earl stuffs the record to the gills with brilliantly-curated soul samples that create the ideal wall of sound for his detached, monotone flow to ride across. Not that the guy doesn’t care, of course. In fact, you can practically feel the pain and fear in his voice as he unspools one meticulous, awe-inspiring verse after another as if his life depends on it. He’s more frank about his history of grappling with depression and suicidal thoughts than ever on tracks such as “Shattered Dreams” and “Eclipse. “Playing Possum” pays tribute to his mother and late father through their own words. There’s simply no one before or since who sounds quite like Earl, and the storytelling and pathos that shine through on Some Rap Songs indicate that his ascent is only beginning.
“I’m an agent of the natural world,” Neko Case sings on the title track of her seventh solo record. It’s true — at this point in her illustrious career, the New Pornographer is equal parts human being and force of nature, poet and warrior. Hell-On is perhaps the most beautiful and viciously-realized refinement of Case’s songwriting yet. She recasts an abusive relative as a military tyrant on “My Uncle’s Navy,” lauds the power and resilience of women through history on “Winnie,” and skewers humanity’s concept of superstition on the driving “Bad Luck.” The centerpiece of the record is seven-minute epic “Curse of the I-5 Corridor,” in which Case weaves a striking narrative about her Pacific Northwest childhood that becomes a meditation on the regrets of youth. A thing of grand, terrible power, Hell-On is yet another songwriting masterclass from one of our greatest purveyors of folk-rock mystique.
15 tracks. 15 minutes. One long-form music video. That’s all this North Philly MC/performance artist needs to give you a thorough introduction to her zany, one-of-a-kind World. The project is an ambitious exercise in whittling a song down to only its most essential tidbits – a concept album for the YouTube age. Whack unleashes a dizzying torrent of video game sounds, old-school 808s and keyboards, deft pop culture references and tongue-tangling flows, cramming in enough rhythmic and lyrical ideas to befit an album four times as long. Her vocals careen effortlessly from lethargic growl to spastic cartoon yelp and sound entirely self-assured even when divulging her deepest insecurities (“Best believe I’m gonna sell/If I just be myself,” she declares on opener “Black Nails”). Whack’s slice-of-life mini-epic bears a powerful message of self-love and perseverance in the midst of a world gone to hell. It also happens to serve as the perfect coming-out party for a true original.
Invasion of Privacy
An instant hip-hop classic, Cardi B’s star-making debut full-length proves her the rare Internet sensation that’s actually worth the hype. She’s brash, fearless, hilarious and unreservedly herself, and Invasion of Privacy brings her best traits to the forefront. Cardi is in absolute control of the show here — her monstrous flow and mastery over her craft almost make the throng of guest performers superfluous. Rambunctious trap beats erupt around her as she revels in her love for the finer things (“Drip,” “Money Bag”), celebrates her Latin heritage (“I Like It”), and tells off her haters (most notably Kodak Black on the brutal megahit “Bodak Yellow”). On “Ring” and “Be Careful,” she showcases her tender side, getting real about heartbreak and relationships that didn’t work out. Invasion is a game-changer in just about every way. It’ll be a hell of a feat to follow up a debut this spectacular, but if what we know of Cardi is any indication, she’s up to the challenge.
OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
Transgressive / Future Classic
The debut full-length from Scottish producer Sophie Xeon is a musical odyssey that’s truly unlike any other. It’s an album of many moods, with hellish breakbeats, severely-distorted vocals and shimmering, shivery synths illustrating the exhilarating, terrifying experience of gender fluidity (and dysphoria) and all it entails. The serenity of “It’s Okay to Cry,” a majestic rejection of toxic masculinity, clashes up against the industrial squelch and grind of deliciously raunchy BDSM anthem “Ponyboy.” Xeon exposes the performative nature of gender on dystopian club jams like “Faceshopping” and “Immaterial.” As long as our physical forms don’t technically exist, she points out, we may as well be whatever the hell we want to be. Alternately gorgeous, playful and beautifully messed-up, OIL is the blisteringly confident work of an artist who knows she’s the future of pop music.
The Future and the Past
After scrapping her sophomore effort in the aftermath of the 2016 election, the Virginia native gave us one of the most exhilarating, soul-stirring and flat-out fun pop records of the decade. Working with several gifted L.A.-based producers, Prass trades in the delicate baroque-folk of her eponymous debut for a series of intoxicating jams that exude the effortless cool of premium 70s AM radio. Slick Steely Dan-esque guitar grooves, jazzy piano riffs, and gorgeous Bacharachian string flourishes intertwine to form captivating turns of melodic phrase. Prass uses these bygone sounds to address our current state of affairs with a nervous sort of optimism. Her sweet, fluttery whisper of a voice stands at the center of it all, the quiet eye of the storm. As its title suggests, The Future and the Past is a perfect balance of bitter and sweet, of anxiety and hope. Most of all, it permanently cements its mastermind’s status among the most gifted songwriters of her age.
The Baltimorean dream-psych duo’s aptly-titled seventh album is a thing of almost impossible sonic splendor – an intense waking dream wherein all is dark and beautiful and no one gets out alive. Worthy new collaborator Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember helps the band discover new, grander ways of approaching the spaced-out soundscapes that have become their trademark. On epic opener “Dark Spring,” Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals and Alex Scally’s warbling guitar tones spin tales of stars that burn brightest in their moments of death, establishing a recurring theme of death, loss and the heartbreak of celebrity. Just over a decade into their career, Beach House are at the height of their powers, and 7 is their most effective and affecting record yet. Once you enter the cozy velvet universes they’ve fashioned, you won’t be able to leave–and why would you want to?
Wondaland / Bad Boy / Atlantic
“I am not America’s nightmare,” pop visionary Janelle Monáe Robinson sings early on in her third studio album, “I am the American Dream.” Indeed, as a queer black woman, Monáe is one of the countless voices in this country that the “American Dream” is all too quick to silence and ignore. But Monáe is unafraid to embrace what makes her different, and with Dirty Computer, she presents a shimmering, summery masterpiece celebrating diversity and personal freedom. It’s a call for all to love themselves and one another for who they truly are.
Dirty Computer bubbles over with vivid technicolor tones and raw sexual energy. Monáe blends a variety of familiar influences into the most fully-realized form yet of that immaculate, intoxicating mixture that’s thoroughly and unmistakably hers. From start to stop, there’s not a moment on the record that isn’t intensely, gloriously thrilling; even the quietest moments feel high-octane. Monáe has clearly evolved not only into a modern musical powerhouse but one of the strongest voices for positive change we have in a world that sorely needs it. “Please sign your name on the dotted line,” she sings as the album comes to a close, encouraging her audience to join her in her quest to save the planet. Sign me right up.