The Best Albums Of 2018 So Far

On June 25th 2018 » By Vinyl Me, Please Staff

Best Albums of 2018 So Far

When Pope Gregory XIII sat down and made the calendar that now bears his name, he accidentally — or purposefully? — set up July 1 as the year’s nexus, the point where each year goes from being up ahead to it being mostly in the rearview. That fulcrum — which is later this week — is as good an excuse as any to take stock, to figure out what’s next and to figure out how we’ve felt about the year so far. To that end, below you’ll find a list of the 25 best albums of 2018 so far, as picked by a panel of Vinyl Me, Please staffers. You’ll find country singers alongside indie rock upstarts alongside rap-singers alongside experimental R&B. Tomorrow you can tune in for our list of the 100 best songs of 2018 so far, but today, it’s all about albums.

Amen Dunes: Freedom

“She had a spiritual good time,” sings Damon McMahon on his new album, Freedom. That single line is the best way to describe my experience listening to this album. It has an invigorating rhythm that travels all throughout it, alongside McMahon’s vocals making it entirely refreshing. Specifically on his version of a dance track, “Calling Paul The Suffering,” and “Believe,” which feels like a religious experience. There is not a single bad moment on this album, from the “Intro” where he has his mother recite an Agnes Martin quote to the sentimental track, “L.A.,” Freedom has an underlying sadness that’s layered on with nostalgia that will leave you with an urge to experience life a little bit more. — Alex Gallegos

Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine you are able to go back to September 10, 2013, the day after Arctic Monkeys released their biggest album yet, AM. For reasons you will never understand, you have to tell the past version of yourself what the new Arctic Monkeys album in 2018 sounds like. What part do you think will be the hardest to believe for the 2013 version of yourself?

A) That the new Arctic Monkeys album has just a faint suggestion of guitar riffs

B) That Alex Turner wears Dale Gribble glasses now

C) That the album is a concept album about a lounge band on the moon

D) That that is maybe a complex metaphor for what it’s like to find yourself suddenly super famous

E) That the album’s best song is about a taco restaurant on the moon.

F) That the album containing all these truths is superlatively awesome

Andrew Winistorfer

Beach House: 7

“Dream pop” is one of the genres most frequently used to describe Beach House, which is remarkably accurate when you consider what a dream is: a set of images and sensations occuring on the inside of your mind. Beach House’s sound gets lost in your brain’s intricate circuitry and wires, until you can’t tell the difference between overlapping drum machines and raindrops on your skin, or a full organ chord and lips on your neck. With new sonic divergence and a new production partnership with Sonic Boom, the sensations on 7 are a little bit fuller, the pool a little bit deeper. One of the most spacious releases this year, 7 presents us with both hopeful wonder and chilling risk: a seductive, hair-fine line between more space to escape and more space to drown. — Amileah Sutliff

Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy

After “Bodak Yellow” convinced every woman in America and beyond last summer that it was completely within their power to bust the jugular of any man who crossed them wide open with nothing but the heel of their Louboutin, Cardi’s debut was perhaps the most widely anticipated of this year. From her outspoken social media presence to her notoriety as a former stripper to her role on Love & Hip Hop, the Bronx-born MC turned heads right out of the gate, and it seemed like the whole world was either vehemently in her corner or a scathing skeptic. Invasion of Privacy proved what everyone in their right mind already knew: the latter camp was the wrong way. On Invasion of Privacy, Cardi flaunted the chops we all knew she had and proved a woman could be fierce, sharp, funny, dirty, poised, vulnerable, confident, scrappy, bad all in one breath, and then turn around and be something else — all with finesse. — AS

Dizzy Fae: Free Form Mixtape

At age 19, Dizzy Fae’s emerged as a queer brown champion from Minneapolis, staring into the untold with digital anthems for days. Free Form Mixtape is a collection of records where her soulful cadences pop and slither down lush rap/techno blends fit for the after-hours spot and the lonely sessions in your head. A Twin Cities superproducer trio — Psymun, su na, and sen 09 — lace the lean project with melodies and hooks guaranteed to fill one with glee and leave one to contemplate. Wherever the sonics lean, Dizzy’s register shrinks to inviting whispers and expands boldly when it’s time to leave it all on the floor; for all her youth, there’s an honest maturity pulsating through her work as well: Her love is unlimited, her time is expensive, and her visions of the future will be vibrant with or without you. She’s the hero we deserve, this tape only a sneak peek into how fantastic those visions will soon manifest to be. — Michael Penn II

emoniFela: Day Camp for Dreamers

Whenever I play “Adjustment” for someone who’s never heard emoniFela, they always ask: “What is this, and more importantly who is this?” After making a name for herself in her hometown of Washington, D.C., emoniFela moved to L.A. and has been actively making music in the scene ever since she arrived. “#mythoughtsonlove” shows just how much her personal magnetism shines through her music with features from the impressive Nick Hakim and Esthero. “DreamBigThinkGOD” showcases some heavy L.A.-beat-scene inspiration with just a tinge of Missy Elliott on top. Please take the time to educate yourself on the best artist you’ve never heard. — Alex Berenson

Purchase this album here.

Father John Misty: God’s Favorite Customer

Josh Tillman — the Oz behind the curtain of Father John Misty — spent a lot of the cycle around Pure Comedy doing the absolute most. He took acid in front of reporters, he fought people with memes, he said dumb stuff about pop singers; if you’re reading this, you know the background. But it was easy to lose him in all (waves hand) that, when a single listen to Pure Comedy revealed a man grappling with virtually everything. God’s Favorite Customer is by necessity smaller; it focuses its gaze on a couple week period when Tillman nearly blew up his marriage and seemingly came unglued. He hits a career peak with “The Songwriter,” a song about how as a creative and the public face of a couple, his wife gets her feelings and thoughts and struggles pushed to the margins of their life together. — AW

Hatchie: Sugar & Spice

Australia has a plethora of amazingly talented artists seeping their way through the earth to us. Hatchie is one of them. It’s as if she desenced out of nowhere without having to search for her vision as an artist, but she was actually in multiple bands before arriving to her sound on Sugar & Spice. The album cakes on the layers of lusciousness as any dream pop album should. There are so many bands out right now that try to capture the shoegaze sound from the early ’90s, but none have successfully crafted it into their own like Hatchie does here. In fact, it’s such a lavish and beautiful album that Cocteau Twins’ very own Robin Guthrie remixed “Sure.” This album sounds like something you would hear in a ’90s teen rom com, so let us warn you that you might end up lying in your bed thinking about your crush like Angela Chase from My So-Called Life by the end of the EP. — AG

Purchase this EP here.

JPEGMAFIA: Veteran

Watching Barrington Hendricks’ trajectory over an eight-year span gives me a special dash of hope when I witness a crescendo like his this year. From the depths of Bandcamp to stages across the country, Veteran is the best distillation of everything that makes JPEGMAFIA a rapper we need right now: trailblazing production, blistering wit and as many punches up as one can muster. It’s experimental and accessible, a thrill ride morphing the tricks and tropes of the rap canon into every tool needed to embody the rage and confusion of our times. Peggy blazes through the motions, unafraid to rehash and re-contextualize at will, manipulating the manipulators with no one unscathed. Veteran is much like us: staring down the chamber, sprinting toward the future, but balling a fist in the jaws of imminent death. — MPII

Ravyn Lenae: Crush EP

The combo of Ravyn Lenae and Steve Lacy made for one of the summer’s hottest EPs dead in the brick of winter. Whatever Steve’s got in that iPhone, Ravyn takes his mobilized soul to heights unseen as Crush makes beautiful sense of the messiest parts of romance. What happens when you stay around for far too long? What about the purgatory between dating and claiming? From the first falsetto whines, Lenae assumes total control with a gentle assertiveness; when Lacy chimes in, the duets feel something like destiny, our world becoming an R&B teenage love story with dirty rockstar impulses on the edges. The Chicago and L.A. melt perfectly into each other, the whole 15 minutes playing like a heatwave while placing all matters of the heart over the most upbeat palettes. — MPII

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer

“They started calling us computers. People began vanishing, and the cleaning began. You were dirty if you look different. You were dirty if you refused live the way they dictated. You were dirty if you showed any form of opposition at all. And if you were dirty, it was only a matter of time,” Janelle Monae’s voice introduces the sci-fi short film that accompanies her album — what she refers to as an “emotion picture.” Monae’s concept album is a beautifully made masterpiece that’s both a celebration and declaration of identity — from the standpoint of Monae as a queer black woman — and a dystopian warning of a future America’s dangerous political rhetoric and actions puts us at risk of. Solidifying her role as a pop culture visionary in every level of execution, Monae shows us what it means, creatively, to step inside yourself to step beyond yourself. — AS

Montero: Performer

The amazing technicolor cover of Performer, and its day-glo soft rock sound that is a cross between Peter Frampton, Bread and David Bowie, masks what is actually one 2018’s most raw, wounded albums. Like Montero’s cartoons, the housing for the message of Performer is shiny, hiding the undertow of figuring out how to define yourself after a breakup, and how what you do for yourself in self-care can both be harmful and your literal savior. There’s no album that feels as good to feel so bad to than this one this year. — AW

Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour is her best album yet; it’s a whirlwind of well-written songs about heartbreak, new love, being alone on the couch, to how a new paramour makes her think of a Velvet Elvis painting. The press around Golden Hour quickly turned around how “country” the album is or isn’t, which is a shame because it so very clearly is the best country album out this year; there isn’t a country single that comes close to “Space Cowboy” for impact and wit and heartbreak. Musgraves might appeal more to people on the coasts than people in the Great Plains, but that doesn’t exclude her from the narrative of her being the best country performer we have right now, and Golden Hour cements that. — AW

Ness Nite: Dream Girl

Ness Nite’s debut is a prime example of what can happen when the musical trappings of our generation come together in all the right ways. Dream Girl is shimmery, raw rap on a sonic xan that’s genre-boundary pushing, fresh and boasts a blunt brand of authenticity. Jeff Weiss wrote that when he first heard her music, he thought, “This is what I thought music would sound like 10 years from now.” Although it’s far from the most avant-garde stuff out there — and to say she’s in a vacuum from influence would be naive — Weiss is right. On Dream Girl, Ness makes herself her own contemporary by way of innovation and not really giving a shit.

Buy this album here

Oneohtrix Point Never: Age Of

This might just be Oneohtrix Point Never’s most accessible album yet. I like to compare OPN to Robert Altman’s film Nashville — the film used 12 different mics to create layers of sound to give the viewer the option of what conversation or sound to listen in on as you normally would in your everyday life.

On Age Of, OPN holds back compared to his past albums, therefore giving his music more space and optimism than we’re used to. James Blake is credited as a co-producer on the album so we also get small pockets of R&B and singing. Throw it on during a night drive and let it take you somewhere new. — AG

*Purchase this album here.*

Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan

In which a murderer’s row of latin jazz aces join forces with singer Pepito Gomez, and come out with one of 2018’s most fun albums, an album suited for a quiet night in, and for hot days when the pavement is going all Alex Mack. Recorded in Cuba at a state-run studio, Orquesta Akokan’s debut is referential to history in the best ways, an album that replicates the feelings of classic latin jazz recordings, but which expands on the genre while reminding you that this music exists and is worth devotion. — AW

Playboi Carti: Die Lit

A Georgia-bred fashionista with a birthmarked cheek, Jordan Carter’s emerged from the SoundCloud ether as a figure of calculated recklessness, a pillar of youthful aggression. The subject matter hasn’t drifted from its self-titled predecessor, but Die Lit finds Playboi Carti thriving in tandem with the brilliance of Pi’erre Bourne in ways that elevate the stakes while doubling down on themselves. It’s not a bigger statement piece, it’s not a drastic shift, and it never needed to be either. Instead, this gives the oft-unfitting mumble rap canon a critical firmware update: The biggest moments range from massive to mind-numbing, every feature fires on their cylinders without overstaying their welcomes, and Carti feels as focused as he does vindictive. Case in point on “R.I.P.,” holding the most victorious moment of Carti’s career: “bought a crib for my mama off that mumblin’ shit.” (It’s also unfortunately the same song where he’s unashamed about slapping a woman, and that’s not the first time he’s been on that.) — MPII

Natalie Prass: The Future and the Past

The first time I laid eyes on Natalie Prass — dressed in ’70s-glam magenta, radiating funk, cool as a cucumber on a sticky Texas day at SXSW — I fell in love. And as evidenced by her June release The Future and the Past, it turns out her magnetic stage presence translates seamlessly into her records. Running the the gamut from windows-down, sparkly glam-pop like “Short Court Style” to down-tempo empowerment bop “Sisters” to slow jams like “Lost,” Prass made the perfect sultry funk pop to charm you through the muggiest summer days. — AS

Buy this album here.

Pusha-T: DAYTONA

I think most discerning voters knew going into the 7-song album every Friday G.O.O.D. Music release month that there were very good odds that Pusha-T would swing through with his album — the first released from Kanye’s National Lampoon’s Wyoming Vacation — and have the best of the bunch. But did anyone really know it would be this much better than the rest of the bunch? If you know you know, I guess. Kanye might be lost to the sauce of Twitter troll-ism, but I’d proudly sign an Indiegogo to have him spend a year chopping up Numero comps to make enough beats for Pusha to rap over forever. — AW

Caroline Rose: Loner

Caroline Rose’s sound is as vibrant and high-energy as the bright red she dons every day — a rockabilly center and synth-pop-y outer shell, glossed with a sheen of lush soul — and could be described as “fun” on every account. That doesn’t mean Loner doesn’t run the gamut of humanity’s trials and tribulations: misogyny, capitalism, death, depression, loneliness. But there’s a functional lightness to it all — a third-party amusement from the deeply personal perspective of Rose that’s fast and loose and so reinvigorating to hear in the age of doom and gloom. “The message is serious, but the way that it’s delivered doesn’t have to be this weighty, sad thing. It can be fun, it can be danceable. Protest can come in many different forms. And for me, the use of satire and humor is hugely important to what I’m trying to say, because it’s a really effective tool to get people to listen,” she told Vinyl Me, Please. — AS

Saba: Care For Me

Saba’s another artist I’ve had the pleasure of being acquainted with since the days of his first mixtape. So much so, I remember being several McNuggets deep in Yoh’s apartment in Atlanta when I scrolled my timeline in the unholy hours and stumbled upon early reports of the passing of DinnerWithJohn (a.k.a. John Walt.) My heart sank through the carpet, for my friends lost another one of their friends again. Walter’s light walks in Care for Me, his untimely passing a muse for Saba’s deepest introspections on life, death, fame, trauma and healing. You can still hear the paces outside his grandma’s house off the Austin stop, the CPD sirens pulsing by every black body in Chicago, but you get the darkest and most triumphant pieces of Saba’s story with the promise — no, the proclamation of more on the horizon. It’s easily one of the most important pieces of hip-hop you’ll hear all year, bar none. — MPII

serpentwithfeet: soil

There’s no artist like Josiah Wise right now: an unparalleled showman, his words etch themselves intensely into song like he slow-cooked every syllable from scratch. He makes love and grief sound exhausting, down to every precious moment and unsavory detail. soil is no different, but it’s the first serpentwithfeet full-length and it never runs out of ways to surprise you. There’s something fantastical, darkly humorous and unbearably painful about what these 39 minutes manage to do to anyone with a soul who’s thirsty to know love. Fret not: This album shows you yourself and demands you bring all of you to the table. If you meet the serpent in his mess, you’re granted with every slice of him, no shroud of secrecy even in the most dramatic of his testimonies. — MPII

Buy this album here.

Jorja Smith: Lost and Found

There’s a certain level of pressure when an artist pegged as a “feature artist” debuts. After recently getting a hand in some high-profile work from Drake and Kali Uchis tracks and The Black Panther soundtrack, Jorja Smith rose to the occasion on Lost & Found. Blending the down-to-earth ease of Erykah Badu, the smoothness and grit of Amy Winehouse, and the modernity of musical peers like Ravyn Lenae, H.E.R. or Charlotte Day Wilson, Smith’s exploration of identity, growth, pain and relationships is a take on what an R&B looks like in 2018. She asks fresh, youthful questions and responds with maturity. — AS

Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Sex & Food

Sex & Food is a harsh, moody alternative to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s last album, Multi-Love, and feels like a response to the trials and tribulations of a polyamorous relationship: Once the dust has settled and everyone begins to move forward, where does one seek solace? Sex & Food. UMO still gives the listener plenty of Ruban Nielsen’s baroque tinged guitar licks paired with his almost impossibly soulful voice — while also going back to their roots with straight fuzz-rock hits like “American Guilt.” I’d be remiss not to throw out a few honorable mentions: “Honeybee,” which might just be the song of the summer, “We’re Not in Love We’re Just High,” which pairs surprisingly upbeat sonics with heart wrenchingly relatable lyrics and “If You’re Going to Break Yourself,” for the true slow burn cry. — AB

Tierra Whack: Whack World

There’s a reason why half the industry’s collapsed at Tierra Whack’s kicks in one fell swoop: In 15 minutes, one minute per song, Whack World invents a visual and stylistic guide for a woman that’s unbound by the constraints of her genre, and especially by the way that genre treats artists of her gender. She’s spittin’, singin’ and conceptualizin’ harder than an overwhelming majority of her contemporaries, and she can chameleon through every imaginable style at lightspeed. It leaves the listener begging for more, while proving a future full-length will pose little-to-no difficulty for someone of her versatility. Come for the worldbuilding, stay for the grounded meditations on romance and hardships; she knows it won’t take very long for you to adore her. — MPII

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