Stop right there, cheaters! If you are just joining me for my countdown of the 50 best albums of 2018, go back to parts one and two to catch up and then dive on in over here. For those who have been patient, congratulations! We’re halfway there.
In this installment you’ll encounter a sensual serpent, a once promising Southern hip-hop artist finally making a name for himself, some post-punk rockers, a hope for emo and a swan flaring its wings in grandeur.
30. Amen Dunes – Freedom
Amen Dunes (Damon McMahon), has always had quite the cult following. But with the release of the critically acclaimed Freedom at the end of March, the peculiar interest in Amen Dunes has burgeoned into bonafide hype. This album is a complete realization of McMahon’s sound—transitioning from lo-fi, abstract folk into a hybrid of psychedelic Americana. It may seem come across like some shell of Springsteen-meets-Petty, but closer listening reveals an artist in touch with rock and roll history and an urge to explore and expand the confines of twangy compositions. He does this beautifully.
Even though this is his third album on Sacred Bones Records, Amen Dunes fit with the label is still misunderstood. Needless to say, his sad, abstract musings about growing up and his mother’s illness is on par with the lyrical intimacy of labelmates like Zola Jesus Marissa Nadler. Though not nearly as dark as those goth rock queens, Amen Dunes really knows how to pull from a dark pit of emotion, and it shows with Freedom.
29. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar
Cocoa Sugar is even more bizarre than its uncanny, offbeat album art. It’s abstract hip-hop world is a weird one for sure, but the U.K. trio of Young Fathers glosses it with enough poignancy and beauty to solidify it as one of the most intriguing listening experiences of 2018. A unique convergence of neo-soul with art pop and Afro beats, set against atmospheric swaths of synth and the occasional flair of anxious power electronics, Cocoa Sugar sees Young Fathers seamlessly seesaw back and forth between experimental extremes and exhilarating pop.
The energy of the trio’s third album runs anxiously with tracks like “Toy,” “Holy Ghost” and “Fee Fi.” Songs like “Lord” and “Border Girl,” meanwhile, exude spiritual evanescence—allowing enough variance to keep you on your toes.
28. Serpentwithfeet – Soil
Although Josiah Wise’s religious background was incredibly stifling and detrimental to his artistic and personal expression, being deeply in touch with his background has informed Wise’s unique voice on such topics. This allows his music to be that much more powerful and evocative. While embracing innate human sexuality with unfettered conviction told through religious subtext, Wise marries the spiritual experience of Soil with musical excursions that are equally soulful. Ranging from chamber pop, R&B and gospel, Soil has an unusual but profound fusion of sound.
27. Pusha T – Daytona
Though he’s the president of G.O.O.D Music, Pusha T has been riding the success of Kanye West for most of his career—there’s no denying it. However, Daytona, the first of five Kanye-produced records released in 2018, might be the best—and it’s not because of Kanye. A disciple of the polarizing Chicago MC, Pusha T was a vessel of unfulfilled potential, but the rapper’s fourth album relinquishes him from the grips of Kanye’s shadow and places him in the spotlight as a Southern hip-hop extraordinaire—finally fulfilling his long-awaited arrival as a true emcee.
Even though Push’s fiery delivery competes for attention with Kanye’s subliminally crisp and clean production, the Virginia rapper’s raw and aggressive energy becomes too hard to ignore. Initially titled King Push, this record serves as the rapper’s self-declaration as rap king. That title is a reach, but Daytona does place Push T within the royal hierarchy.
26. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
Meg Remy’s seventh album as U.S. Girls is a culmination of years of sonic explorations through different eras of pop music and thematic expansion of feminine empowerment. A vanguard voice deserving much more attention, Remy’s In a Poem Unlimited delivers stylistic variance, accessibility and an important scope into the female experience in America.
The intimacy leaves its mark through sweeping commentary of American politics and gender dynamics. Whether it’s criticism of former President Barack Obama (“Incidental Boogie”), gun control (“Velvet 4 Sale”) or the patriarchal influence within the church (“Pearly Gates”), nothing is safe from Remy and her politically charged ascent through delightful pop tunes.
25. Brockhampton – Iridescence
Experimental hip-hop and self-proclaimed boy band Brockhampton dominated 2017. By releasing three incredible records within one year, there appeared to be no ceiling for the high-energy collective. But doubt surfaced when sexual assault allegations were levied upon the group’s source of grit, Ameer Vann (leading to his dismissal).
Many felt they would miss Vann’s commanding energy, but those people were wrong. With Iridescence, the rowdy rappers deliver an album bulging with energy, confidence and anger that seemed unfeasible without him. Instead, a few other members stepped up their game. On “WHERE THE CASH AT,” Merlyn Wood raps as if he was shot out of a cannon. The same can be said about fans’ favorite punching bag, Joba, who comes across like a man possessed with fury on “J’OUVERT.” With questions about moxie more than answered, Iridescence is the band’s most reflective and surprisingly, most melancholic release.
Reflecting on Vann’s departure, tracks like “WEIGHT,” “SAN MARCOS” and “TONYA” are quite beautiful—with each featuring either mournful string sections, piano and acoustic guitar. Now that Brockhampton has proven it can overcome internal conflict, the future of the best boy band around remains brighter than ever.
24. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
Just when I thought they reached peak form with Human Performance in 2016, Parquet Courts made one of the best danceable alt-rock albums in recent memory. With Wide Awake!, angry millennials now have a conduit to release their frustration; in the form of furiously ass-shaking post-punk that fuses the likes of Talking Heads with The Clash.
Bringing in Danger Mouse to produce their record turned out to be a great thing for the band. Wide Awake! is a more assertive progression of the soul and funk that punk Andrew Savage and company hinted at with their last project. Dressed in cleaner production, bass lines groove deliciously deeper into memory, drums thwack even harder against eardrums and guitars bite throats with rabid intent. Parquet Courts simply sound better. Lyrically, “Savage” is a smashing hit. Tongue-in-cheek and humorously dark, Wide Awake! confronts American politics with disguised anger, plenty of laughter and danceable jams.
23. Foxing – Nearer My God
The Albatross, released in 2013,was vibrant and vigorous. It’s still one of my personal favorite emo records of all time. But then, 2015’s Dealer was boring and bad. Considering my disappointment with Foxing’s second record, I wasn’t interested when I heard news of Foxing releasing Nearer My God. But when positive whispers trickled in, I couldn’t resist. And I came away floored by what I heard. The Midwest collective received the memo. It brought back the vitality that made it so interesting in the first place through a refreshing progression of the most recent wave of emo.
In complete honesty, hardcore emo devotees may find Foxing’s latest pretty repulsive. But for most, Nearer My God is a revelatory enhancement of a well-worn style—a passionate album that sees the band move away from traditional emo sensibilities and into a domain that melds flavors of art pop with those of post-rock. Nearer My God is not The Albatross, but it is one of the most surprisingly great albums of 2018.
22. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
Dev Hynes’ production once again draws from a rich well of influences and diverse style. While his past material wielded an ethereal fusion of new wave and punchy dance beats, Negro Swan is far more delicate and slows things down with a deepened emphasis on soul and jazz. Though I dig the synthesized ’80s pastiche of Freetown Sound a bit more, Negro Swan has an ethereal mystique which leaves room for profoundly affecting storytelling.
21. Preoccupations – New Material
The sonics on New Material are stimulating and possess the gnashing teeth of good, abrasive post-punk, and while it seemed Preoccupations’ musings could not get any darker, they are intensely embodied here. Enhancing their nocturnal sound, New Material brandishes the band’s affinity toward soundscapes brimming with misanthropy and frigid darkness while further reflecting on the thematic dynamic between self-destruction and coping with the destruction around us.