Trying to make end of the year lists is an inherently subjective task. Here at Not a Sound we are committed to reviewing albums based upon how well they accomplished what they set out to do given their audience, genre, and vision. That makes ranking albums across genres and cultures difficult in many ways, because it is impossible to review Mark Kozelek and A$AP Rocky in the same way, or compare Ariana Grande to Deafheaven. At the end of the day, our favorite records are the ones that stuck with us the most, not only in terms of technical prowess, but in terms of an emotional and personal connection. So don’t take this list personally if your favorite record didn’t make it on here; this is simply the music that defined 2018 for me. Just because your favorite artists aren’t on here doesn’t mean I think they’re bad.
25 – How To Fix Everything by Fantasy Camp
Emo-rap singer and producer Fantasy Camp did a lot this year. He produced songs for other artists, helped form Misery Club, and released two of his own Eps. The second of which, How To Fix Everything, is huge leap from the first, demonstrating crisp, focused instrumentals and pristine vocals. As emo-rap continues to develop, it is clear that Fantasy Camp will be one of the artists at the helm.
24 – Historian by Lucy Dacus
I have to admit that I was one of the people who only found out about Lucy Dacus when the boygenius project was announced. After listening to her latest album Historian, I understand the hype that she has received from critics this year. The record is a perfect example of well written indie-rock, brimming with poise and sincerity. The best example of this is the track “Night Shift,” which characterizes her voice, lyrical style, and arrangement very well in its two part structure.
23 – TESTING by A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky has had a difficult time living up to the hype that he and the media have built around him since his breakout in the early part of the decade. Testing is no masterpiece, but I enjoyed all the weird detours and experiments he takes you on over the course of the record. It doesn’t flow perfectly, but it’s a fun, truly odd listen that was definitely a soundtrack to my summer. “A$AP Forever REMIX” is one of those songs that you gotta turn up to with the homies every once in a while. It just is.
22 – Corinthiax by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal
On this EP, Wicca Phase cleaned up his sound, and released a polished effort that is easily the most likeable and accessible work he has created yet. The EP loosely follows the theme of seeking after “Corinthiax” – “A dark manifestation of a love that I was given by the hollow moon.” It’s a dark, quirky listen that is an acquired taste, but one that I have learned to love given the right mood.
21 – Nasir by Nas
One of the five albums to come out of Kanye’s Wyoming sessions, Nasir lacks some of the focus of the other five, but is still a phenomenal listen. Kanye’s beats and Nas’ lyrics and delivery are a match made in heaven, and the album is crowded with great samples. The album drops off a bit at the end, but the beginning warrants a spot for me on this list. Also the song Simple Things might be one of the catchiest hip-hop tracks of the year.
20 – East Atlanta Love Letter by 6LACK
6LACK is the artist that I always hoped Drake would be. Unlike Drake’s bloated Scorpion, East Atlanta Love Letter is concise, and while it shares a similar moody hip-hop/modern RnB style to Drake, 6LACK sounds way more convincing than Drake ever has. On album highlight “Scripture,” he raps, “I’m and RnB n— with a hip-hop core” and you believe him.
19 – DAYTONA by Pusha T
On the first Kanye-produced project to arrive this summer, the president of G.O.O.D. MUSIC label made a scorching comeback. This is a nearly perfectly constructed album – Push’s delivery is intense, sadistic, and snarky as ever before. He spits bar after bar over Kanye’s beats and sampling, which are expertly crafted and chosen to fit the moment. This is a daring, experimental, and daunting example of what gangster-rap looks like in 2018.
18 – CARE FOR ME by Saba
The Chicago-native Saba wrote some of the most heartbreaking bars of 2018. Much of the album deals with the loss of a loved one, and the aftermath. On opening track “BUSY / SIRENS” he disdainfully and heartbrokenly raps, “Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat / I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone / in this packed room I’m alone.”
17 – 7 by Beach House
Beach House is one of those bands that I’ve always flirted with, never fully committing to calling myself true “fan,” but this album may have won me over. I was swinging at the park up the street from my parent’s listening to it this summer when the song “Woo” came on. The gorgeous synths, electro beats, and airy vocals singing “I want it all, but I can’t I can’t have it” made me feel like I was in a dream.
16 – Lush by Snail Mail
A friend recommended this to me quite recently, and while I haven’t had the chance to get close to it, Lush is a strong example of what an indie rock album should sound like to me. It is full of tightly constructed songs, passionate lyrics, and earwormy melodies that stick with you when you’re done. Jordan’s vocals are emotional without overdoing it. This album is one that I will return to in 2019.
15 – Sweetener by Ariana Grande
I guess you could say I’ve been an Ariana stan (no that’s not a typo) for a while, and this album helped validate this title for me. While her excellent debut Yours Truly was a great 90’s throwback record, and her subsequent releases yielded massive hits, it did not feel as though she had a truly unique voice in the pop sphere. On this album she seems to have finally found it. It’s a massive, girly, sincere, and fun album that pulls out all the stops. This record proves that trap is the new pop, as many of her songs are oriented around trap influenced beats, while still maintaining the RnB-diva aesthetic of her previous work. As far as pop music goes, this is as 2018 as it gets.
14 – Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne
Wayne’s long delayed, incredibly hyped fifth Carter installment finally came this year. For an album that he had begun working on years ago, this record sounds surprisingly modern. Of course, in many ways it is nostalgic as all get out in terms of the lyrics and some of the beats, but it does not disappoint. It felt like a return-to-form for Wayne, a resurrection of the master MC of ten years ago, with fast bars on top of fast bars, and punchline after punchline. Where Wayne shines the most however is in his introspection as a veteran of the scene, as in the delightful and melodic “Mess.”
13 – Some Rap Songs by Earl Sweatshirt
Odd Future alum Earl Sweatshirt was another popular rapper who made his return this year on the psychedelic, jazz influenced hodge-podge that is Some Rap Songs. Earl has always been introspective, but he takes it to a new level on this release, reflecting upon the loss of his father. He successfully ages from the angsty punk we knew from his early career to a reflective, wise adult who is on the verge of a spiritual awakening.
12 – Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek
These days there’s not really that much of a difference between a Sun Kil Moon record and Mark Kozelek solo record, but it is evident upon this release. These songs mainly consist of guitar looping and Mark’s trademark, stream-of-consciousness storytelling. While not as engaging as some of his more dynamic work, this album is a testament to where he is at in his life and career. It means a lot when an artist chooses to release a self-titled record this late in their career. This album represents who Mark is, as he sings about his home town, boxing matches, memories from his childhood, and the day-in-and-day-out of his extremely normal, yet fascinatingly introspective life.
11 – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven
I don’t usually listen to metal that much. One night this summer I was cramming an assignment for an online class, and I saw an album called Ordinary Corrupt Human Love pop up on my recommended page. The album title is what initially caught me, as the meaning of the statement was intriguing, and the words themselves just sounded powerful. I found myself struck by the dark beauty of the music. I couldn’t understand the words lead vocalist Clarke was saying, but I felt the emotion of the music, and the attempt to make something huge and important. “Canary Yellow” was blasted in my car on the way to work quite a bit in August.
10 – Kids See Ghosts by KIDS SEE GHOSTS
This is the colab album that both Cudi and Kanye fans have been dreaming of for years. It’s an extremely artsy-banger, with Ye and Cudi trading verses back and forth, across various genres and styles ranging from guitar-sampling rap, to straight up rock music, and even a song that sounds like Man On The Moon-era Kid Cudi. It’s the perfect example of the genre that Kanye and Cudi have carved out for themselves over the span of their careers – a unique blend of art rap and pop rap that has gone on to influence hip-hop as we know it.
9 – Astroworld by Travis Scott
Astroworld finally lived up to the hype that Scott has had since the start of his career. The album is like the fictional theme park it is named after; each song is a wild ride and a new attraction. While it inevitably drops off at some points due to its excessive runtime, it feels natural. Like any long hot day at an amusement park, there are highs and lows: long waits in line, stops in grimy bathrooms, overpriced food. But, most of the time, you’re still glad you went.
8 – This Is My Dinner by Sun Kil Moon
I’ve already written about this album, so I’ll spare the details, but I will reiterate that this is one of Kozelek’s best recent works. Rather than feeling oppressive as he did sometimes on 2017’s Common As Light, his stories here feel like they are coming from a better place of hope and often humor. The variation of instrumentals is engaging, and captures a melancholic beauty that I am often aware of in late fall. It is no wonder he waited to release this album until November 1st, as it was written and recorded in November of the previous year and perfectly fits that mood.
7 – Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest
I wasn’t sure if this should really count towards this year or not, as it is a re-recorded version of an album released years ago on bandcamp. But considering the work that Toledo did to literally re-record and rework the whole thing, I believe it does stand out as a new record. This is a densely packed, experimental indie-punk album that lays the writer bare to the listener. It’s a long, thrilling masterpiece that is a tribute to those suffering from mental illness that is also life-affirming in its exuberant weirdness.
6 – Club Misery by Misery Club
This is another that I’ve written about already this year, so again, I’ll spare the details. Misery Club is one of those underground groups that you run across every so often that you realize is bound to be huge. The melodies, tight beats, and emo lyrics are all geared perfectly towards rap’s current moment, as intense vulnerability is becoming more popular than ever. With the right publicity behind them, this group could be one of the biggest pop-rap sensations, if not on the radio, then in the larger underground scene.
5 – Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along
Hop Along’s third album is different than the previous two. It has far fewer explosive moments than Paint It Shut, which initially was a setback to me. Overtime though, the consistency of this record has caused me to come around to viewing it as potentially Hop Along’s best record. It is paced perfectly, a fantastic example of guitar-based indie pop. Lyrically, it touches on the emotional and personal memories, as well as on the current political moment in songs such as How You Got Your Limp and One That Suits Me. It is a timely release that hits all the bases.
4 – Skylight by Pinegrove
It took me a few days to listen to this album. Given the band’s past, I had mixed feelings about their return, and it had been a while since I had listened to Cardinal actively. In the end, Skylight turned out to be one of my favorite releases of the year. It is not a drastic departure from their previous sound; much of it is still the same brand of country-infused emo that made them popular. The difference here is that there is an amount of reflectiveness in these songs that hits the ears differently than Cardinal. The first half is slow-paced and linear, and there are far fewer catchy hits on this record than before. But give it a few listens, and you will find layers to the stories that these songs tell that will have you coming back time and time again.
3 – Swimming by Mac Miller
Mac’s final album is his best yet. I remember thinking this before he died, wondering where his career would take him next. It’s the best version of what he had been trying recently – a funky style of rap that infused RnB flawlessly. The lyrics are stark and personal, but also convey true joy and hope in the latter half. It is not a perfect record, but it is not one that reveals a perfect man, so the flaws feel appropriate. It’s a powerful testament to going through it (whatever your personal it might be) and coming out on the other side intact, a different person, but one who is ready and able to move on. This is the best legacy Mac could’ve left as his last testament.
2 – boygenius by boygenius
This is an indie-supergroup dream band. The possibility of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus on one project makes total sense, but I still could not believe it was actually happening when it was announced. As three of the most powerful voices in indie-rock in this current moment, they come together to make a record that has variety, consistency, and beauty that is nearly unparalleled. They are all different-but-similar enough for it to work without sounding like their solo releases. Boygenius is undeniably a group effort that offers something new to fans of any of the three artists. I’m praying they do another release eventually.
1 – ye by Kanye West
Kanye had quite a year. It seems that he does almost everything he can to keep people from talking about what he does best: music. Kanye’s short, flash-in-a-pan ye is his most lyrically revealing, vulnerable album in years. In past releases, his usual pattern is to reveal something about himself – some guilt, pain or insecurity – and then immediately cover it with an expletive or a bad joke, but on this album, he gets as close to naked as we have seen him. The lyrics deal largely with his mental health, wrongs he has committed against his wife and the public, as well as drug addiction, and working through his role as a father. Through it all, the music is fantastic, crackly, a bit lo-fi (for blockbuster standards), adding to the rawness and emotional energy. As usual, it is packed with guest features, most uncredited. They usually take on a background role: these are not designed to gain hype, but to add to the over-all product. Despite his shortcomings as a person, ye is some of the best music Kanye has released. It will not be viewed as an influential super-hit the way most of his previous albums are, but to fans, it is a rare and real look into the most influential man in popular music.