ACRN’s Top 25 Albums of 2018

2018, a compelling year for rising artists from a web of musical trajectories.

1. Noname – Room 25, [Self-released; 2018]

By Kwase Lane, Staff Writer

Everything that someone could love about Noname’s music is taken to the next level in Room 25. One of the great things about Noname is that she doesn’t wear out her welcome. After stepping away from the microphone for two years she returned and gifted listeners with 11 songs that are all amazing in their own right, and then she’s gone again. In the past, Noname’s music has strayed toward the somber, and at some points, it is even downright depressive.

Although she hasn’t lost the ability to make listeners teary-eyed, she has found a way to make cocky, fun bangers that don’t leave you sad after you listen to them. The growth displayed on this project firmly cements Noname as one of the better rappers of the current day. She’s thoughtful and somehow finds a way to be unafraid and vulnerable all within 30 minutes. If every time she steps from the shadows she comes with a project like this in tow, she will soon be a household name.

Listen: Noname – Room 25

Read the full review for Room 25 here.

2. Mitski – Be The Cowboy, [Dead Oceans; 2018]

By Abby Jeffers, News Editor

Mitski’s Be The Cowboy is somehow gentle and forceful all at once. Gone are the distorted guitars of Puberty 2; instead, Mitski has replaced the grit with a smoother sound, though it is no less tense. The revised sound is not without company in its change, either. Throughout the record, Mitski details narratives of shifting relationships and dynamics, like on “Nobody”, where she describes feelings of alienation (“My God, I’m so lonely / So I open the window / To hear sounds of people”) over a disco-pop beat right before “Pink In The Night”, a slower love ballad about infatuation and desire. But the album as a whole shows maturity in Mitski’s sound: while she has not outgrown the angst, she has moved away from the grungy guitar of her past, replacing it – even if temporarily – with something more polished to build a record that resonates in its sound as much as its lyrics.

Listen: Mitski – Be The Cowboy

3. KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS, [Getting Out Our Dreams II; 2018]

By Kwase Lane, Staff Writer

This is what every collaborative record dreams of being. Kanye West and Kid Cudi have worked together in the past, but this is by far the best either of them has been in many ways. Both artist’s styles blend into a weird stew of anxious energy and ominous vocals. The project is only 23 minutes long, and with just seven songs there are no throwaway tracks. The duo somehow finds a way to innovate on every track, making each song feel new and fresh without being too disconnected from the others. After both men’s battles with mental illness, this project feels almost like a rallying cry for those who battle their demons every day.

Listen: KIDS SEE GHOSTS – KIDS SEE GHOSTS

4. SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, [MSMSMSM / Future Classic; 2018]

By Kiah Easton, Staff Writer

With critical acclaim following this project, SOPHIE deservingly concretes her status within the forefront of electronic music and digital sound design. With the evolution of the digital age, it is reassuring to know there is an artist pushing the limits in such a creative and optimized way. The opening track, “It’s Okay to Cry”, displays her previously unheard voice, singing in a gentle, breathily-raw state. With sharp contrast, track number two titled “Ponyboy”, shows a harsher side. Industrial to the point of trauma, this track is not vulnerable; it is domineering and powerful.

SOPHIE’s music displays an organic world of the future. Her sounds feel earthy and natural, and yet natural in a world not discovered yet. This idea is possibly represented in the title of her penultimate track “Immaterial”. The song itself sonically reflects her close entanglement in PC Music. Polished to perfection and fake yet hyperrealistic, this track proves SOPHIE’S mainstream potential without sacrificing any of her genius experimentation. With an almost future-proof sound design and seemingly endless creativity, it is exciting to digest this project while waiting for future releases.

Listen: SOPHIE – Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides

5. Kali Uchis — Isolation, [Virgin EMI; 2018]

By Andrew Breazeale, Staff Writer

Kali Uchis’ second studio album is anything but a disappointment. She came into 2018 as a relatively unknown artist and is leaving with widespread acclaim and a hit album. Her incredible voice and attitude shine the most on Isolation, empowering listeners with positive messages and sassy lyrics. With gorgeous tracks like “Dead to Me” and “After the Storm (feat. Tyler, the Creator & Bootsy Collins)”, she leaves the audience hooked and happy, ready to seize the day and take control of their own lives. In other tracks like “Feel Like a Fool” and “Tyrant (feat. Jorja Smith)”, she takes inspiration from a toxic long-term relationship she escaped from, using her pain to create emotionally impactful songs that touch the hearts of the audience.

She sings about loss, love and healing, baring her soul for all to see while elegantly crooning about her hopes and sorrows. With a meticulous balance of funky bangers and soulful ballads, Isolation doesn’t plainly sit in one genre or another; rather, it moves between them, combining different sounds and styles to create a brand new form of expression. The genre-bending Isolation is Kali Uchis’ most powerful and ambitious project to date and is undeniably deserving of the acclaim it received this year.

Listen: Kali Uchis – Isolation

6. Snail Mail – Lush, [Matador; 2018]

By Lane Moore, Staff Writer

Lush is about vulnerability just as much as it is about empowerment. Here, Snail Mail approaches the sensibilities of life from various angles and uses sincerity as a tool to crack the code of what it means to search for love from others. However, she is not without foresight or wisdom on this journey. 18-year-old singer/songwriter Lindsey Jordan knows that love isn’t changing or waiting for someone, but she also understands love’s tentative nature. Her songs are filled with simple truths like “If it’s not supposed to be / Then I’ll just let it be” (“Pristine”). Articulation and accessibility work hand in hand here, as both the well-written and highly relatable lyrics make Lush stand out.

Moreover, Lush is presented in a way that allows for intensive listening through headphones or casual listening as one goes about daily routines. The wide assortment of carefully constructed melodies and guitar licks satisfy the former, but Lush’s inherent beauty makes it perfect for any occasion. Jordan doesn’t have everything figured out, which listeners can conclude after listing to “Stick”. Nevertheless, one can only get older and wiser, and her future endeavors are sure to shape the indie rock that has yet to come.

Listen: Snail Mail – Lush

7. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs, [Columbia; 2018]

By Kiah Easton, Staff Writer

After three years off, Some Rap Songs is a painfully honest comeback. Earl Sweatshirt has been open about his depression throughout the years and many believe it was the cause of his hiatus. Some Rap Songs confirms his battle with mental illness, addiction and the death of his father, through his most poetic verses yet. Extremely personal, his versus let you in and give you the reality of his mental state: “See the ghost of where I was, lonesome as I was.” His drowsy flow stumbles over itself, carelessly rambling but secretly in control.

Earl’s experimental, lo-fi, DIRTY production stands on its own alongside his verses. These beats are heavy, sludgy and dark. Noisy, ugly samples of pianos and distant singers conjure rainy days and dark rooms. Thick and undefined, each song feels like a brick on your chest locking you into the world Earl is delivering. Despite all the darkness, this album leaves you with hope. Earl holds a more reflective attitude rather than in that of one in midst of mental illness. Just the existence of the album seems to a triumph. “Riot”, the instrumental that puts a lid on this project, although still somber in tone, sheds a glimpse of light on the situation. A poorly warped, crackly recording of guitar loops in a comforting almost loving chord progression. Only a little over one minute, there’s just enough time for the horns of victory to come in and send the listener off with a sense of resolve.

Listen: Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs

8. Ariana Grande – Sweetener, [Republic; 2018]

By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor

From the opening bars of “raindrops (an angel cried)”, pop icon Ariana Grande brings you in with her powerful voice. In each track afterward, she brings both fun and seriousness to her fourth studio album. The instrumentals are glittery and creative, and Grande’s vocals show a full range of styles, taking the lead on tracks like “God is a Woman” and “breathin” where she’s sultry and emotional. Even her more fun poppy tracks have this same power, with “sweetener” and “pete davidson” taking a light and airy look at love and finding new relationships and breaking off others.

The album as a whole encompasses Grande as a whole person through all of the things she went through since Dangerous Woman. Clearly, Grande is a sensation, as social media practically destroys itself anytime she drops new music. It makes sense. People relate on a personal level, just her version of events is played over pop instrumentals and sung with a magical soprano.

Listen: Ariana Grande – Sweetener

9. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer, [Bad Boy; 2018]

By Abby Jeffers, News Editor

Queer pop princess Janelle Monáe’s fourth album, Dirty Computer, comes across as a less sanitized version than the one she has previously presented. The record deals with her own acceptance and reclaiming of her sexuality, as seen on tracks like “Pynk”, which features Grimes and is a snappy celebration of women and sexuality (“’Cause boy, it’s cool if you got blue / We got the pynk”). Just one song later, “Make Me Feel” is a seductive queer pop anthem that features heavy influence from Prince, who worked on the album before his death in 2016. Not everything is synth-infused and upbeat, however. Tracks like “I Like That” are still bass-heavy, but operate at an unhurried pace. Regardless of the tempo, Dirty Computer does a great job of highlighting Monáe’s individualistic lyrics and feminist, sex-positive narrative through catchy, fun pop tracks.

Listen: Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

10. Mac Miller – Swimming, [Warner Bros; 2018]

By Emily DiAlbert, Copy Editor

Mac Miller is one of this generation’s finest. Although his addiction separated us from his art all too soon, he left us with one final look into his beautifully-twisted mind – Swimming. Mac’s compelling honesty about his struggles with mental illness and heartbreak combined with his elegant mixes make this album his most noteworthy yet. “Self Care” and “Ladders” will go down as some of Mac’s best tracks to bump at parties, while opener “Come Back to Earth” and ballads like “2009” are better suited for quiet contemplation.

Moreover, posthumously, the tracks have a newfound sting. Although it’s bittersweet to reflect on how far Easy Mac with the cheesy raps has journeyed stylistically, it’s more than fitting for Swimming to serve as the final culmination of everything Mac worked to perfect within his music. It’s heavy, intimate and a powerhouse. Plus, after earning Mac his first-ever Grammy nomination, his fifth and final album will remain as his forever legacy in the hearts of all fans, heeding the message to never stop swimming even when it feels like you’re drowning.

Listen: Mac Miller – Swimming

11. Florence + The Machine – High as Hope, [Virgin EMI; 2018]

By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor

With gorgeous layered instrumentals and Florence Welch’s ethereal soprano voice, High as Hope delivers everything that we have come to expect from a Florence + The Machine album. High as Hope is a mastery of musical highs and lows, deeply rooted in natural imagery and powerful emotion. Welch touches on concepts of hunger for love and a need for acceptance and grace even as people destroy themselves. Florence + The Machine are known for being almost untouchable spiritual beings through previous albums, but Welch is able to ground herself on tracks like “Hunger” and “South London Forever” as a real person with experiences as real as her listeners. She sings about taking drugs, coming clean and ruining her sister’s birthday. This doesn’t mean Welch has abandoned her poetic streak, as tracks like “Sky Full of Song” catapult listeners back into the mystical world that Florence + The Machine has so meticulously cultivated. It’s just been calmed and grounded into something different.

Listen: Florence + The Machine – High as Hope 

12. Brockhampton – iridescence, [Question Everything; 2018]

By Kwase Lane, Staff Writer

In their latest release iridescence, Brockhampton brought the experimental sound that always lurked in their previous projects to the forefront of their sound. After the sudden ejection of one of the groups most important members, it wouldn’t have been strange for the Internet’s First Boyband to take a little time off to redevelop their sound. Instead, just six months later, they release this. It’s really commendable how quickly they picked up the pieces of what many would have viewed as a disaster. iridescence may not be everyone’s favorite album from the collective, but the skills showcased on almost every song on the album shows how adaptable and talented everyone in the group really is.

Listen: Brockhampton – iridescence

Read the full review for iridescence here.

13. Vince Staples – FM!, [Def Jam; 2018]

By Emily DiAlbert, Copy Editor

Before the days of instant music streaming, being played on the radio was how new artists learned that they made it in the business. It then makes complete sense that Vince Staples chose Big Boy’s Neighborhood as the medium to relay his third studio album, FM!. Elaborating on the themes of his earlier music, FM! talks about life in Long Beach in both its glory and its impoverished despair. Vince has never been a stranger to social commentary, and this is by far his most revealing and ambitious album yet. Notable tracks include “Outside!” and “Don’t Get Chipped”, where Vince, on top of fun and snappy instrumentals, reflects on growing up on the North Side. In lead single “FUN!”, Staples sticks to the same theme, but in its corresponding video, he also pokes at how his suburban, white fans are “safe” from his experience, only seeing poverty from a distance through pop culture. With producers including Kenny Beats and features including Ty Dolla $ign, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyga and E-40, FM! is one radio show you surely won’t want to skip.

Listen: Vince Staples – FM!

Read the full review for FM! here.

14. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, [Dirty Hit; 2018]

By Taylor Linzinmeir, Contributor

The 1975’s third and newest LP A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is truly a record that cleverly captures the modern age. Produced by frontman Matty Healy, the album sincerely and candidly discusses being young and navigating in a technologically driven world full of social media etiquette and self-doubt. Serving as a mirror to our current society, the record is chaotic and a little all over the place genre-wise spotlighting infectious pop-rock songs such as “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”, the politically poignant track “Love It If We Made It” and even a spoken word track called “The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme” that features the voice of Siri. With tracks that bounce from auto-tuned and glitchy to soft and soulful and finally to the catchy alternative pop sound the band is known for, The 1975 provides listeners with a beautifully boisterous record.

Listen: The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

15. Pusha T – Daytona, [G.O.O.D; 2018]

By Justin Cudahy, Columns Editor

Despite its short 21-minute runtime, Daytona contains some of the best music from Pusha T’s entire discography. Kanye West takes lead as the producer on this record, creating dark and heavy-hitting beats that match up evenly to its themes on drug life, hustling and murder. Each track feels extremely raw, including the fantastic “Come Back Baby”, which utilizes a simplistic bass line behind a minimalistic instrumental. The lyrics in tracks such as “If You Know You Know” and “The Games We Play” give listeners a look into T’s experiences in the drug world and understanding what kind of a life that entails. Meanwhile, in the closing track “Infrared” his demeanor becomes more braggadocious where he compares himself to Tom Brady, accuses Drake of ghostwriting and takes shots at the Grammys as well as our current political climate. So not only did Daytona give us one of the best albums of 2018, but it also started some of the best feuds of the year, so bonus points for that.

Listen: Pusha T – Daytona

16. Vein – Errorzone, [Closed Casket Activities; 2018]

By Lane Moore, Staff Writer

Vein’s Errorzone is a delicacy by the current standards of hardcore. Some hardcore here, some metalcore there and a dash of nu-metal for good measure, Vein have created an LP that sounds like an industrial meltdown met the abrasiveness of Code Orange. Breakdowns heavy enough to “crash a thousand cars” are complemented by overarching metaphors of a dystopian society, making it no surprise that their chosen imagery for the record is… eyeball surgery.

Gruesome imagery is everywhere on Errorzone, but it is never without a purpose. The narrative conveyed via the full collapse of “Demise Automation” and the screeching guitars on “Rebirth Protocol” adds a layer of complexity that many hardcore bands lack. Though Errorzone is a brief 28 minutes, erratic drums and constant surprises make it a labyrinth of variety. The twists and turns lead to curiosities such as dial-up noises on “End Eternal” and ghastly clean vocals on the title track. On “Virus://Vibrance”, vocalist Anthony Didio remarks “I’ve got a nuclear weapon called self-actualization,” and it is this quality that makes Errorzone radiate with fury in the fallout.

Listen: Vein – Errorzone

17. Dance Gavin Dance – Artificial Selection

By Devon Hannan, Editorial Director

With banger after banger, Dance Gavin Dance’s eighth studio album takes its listeners on an unbelievably fun notion of senselessness. With ridiculous and almost questionable lines from frontman Tilian Pearson and unclean vocalist Jon Mess (Take “Bloodsucker” and “Story Of My Bros”, for example.) Artificial Selection is slick and downright nasty.

However, nobody likes this record for Pearson or Mess. Let’s be honest here — Swan is the backbone of this high-energy disaster. Perfectly layering expert riffs over otherwise unlistenable lyricism, Swan’s guitar work is the focal point of this record. With that being said, for any guitar-work aficionado, this sucker rips.

Listen: Dance Gavin Dance – Artificial Selection

Read the full review for Artificial Selection here.

18. Foxing – Nearer My God [Triple Crown; 2018]

By Lane Moore, Staff Writer

Crafted with ceaseless love, infinite attention and careful precision, Nearer My God is what amounts from three years of passionate songwriting. On this record, Foxing refuse to be bound by the limits of their previous efforts and instead create a manifesto that declares everything they’ve wanted to be all this time. From the grace of its title track to the shock and awe of “Lich Prince”, the ballads of Nearer My God beg listeners to feel anything at all.

Undoubtedly Foxing’s most successful and excessive use of synthesizers, the general dynamics of each track follow new formats and boundaries. The ambiance of  “Heartbeats” and “Lambert” would leave longtime fans in complete disarray if it weren’t for familiar lyrics such as “I spent so long at the gates / Heaven won’t take me in.” Disillusionment defines much of Nearer My God, and this feeling is communicated through a release that might be somber on one occasion and booming on another. This is an album for weeping. This is an album for singing to yourself when you feel you’ve “done nothing right.” This is a remarkable beauty and a chance to feel the emotion that stems from incessant devotion.

Listen: Foxing – Nearer My God

19. Haley Heynderickx – I Need To Start A Garden

By Devon Hannan, Editorial Director

Folk music’s latest it-girl, Haley Heynderickx took on the scene with utmost grace and strength on her first LP I Need To Start A Garden. Overflowing with big, booming vocals on tracks such as “No Face” and “Untitled God Song,” Heynderickx’s vocal performance towers over echoing reverb. If sounds had sizes, Heynderickx would be nothing smaller than fucking massive.

Nestled in a sea of high-stake emotional power ballads, I Need To Start A Garden’s track-listing may be short. However, each song is purposeful. Without fluff or basic indie-rock sad-boi whines, Heynderickx stands holy and against the current.

Listen: Haley Heynderickx – I Need To Start A Garden

20. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran, [Deathbomb Arc; 2018]

By Josh Pettis, Staff Writer

JPEGMAFIA’s second studio album feels like a self-contained hard drive of SoundCloud fragments and corrupted project files recovered with obscure command prompt scripts passed on to a third party to be meticulously stitched together into the fractured rap piece that is Veteran. Peggy’s 2018 exploration of trap and hip-hop aesthetics culminates in the generation of a work designed to replicate the dissonance of internet music culture; Veteran boasts a deeply rooted cohesion that becomes almost narrative, listening as an album breaks and rebuilds itself from the leftovers of moody computer-esque ASMR glitch tones or sparkly melodies carried on waves of crashing 808s and effect-heavy samples.

Songs like “My Thoughts on Neogaf Dying” and “Germs” punctuate a feeling of detachment in the indifference of Peggy’s delivery and the warped quality of his sounds that places the entire work at the very edge of the online, giving an uneasy self-awareness to the sense that the album is meant as a purposeful distortion of the concept of bedroom producers and rappers. Veteran epitomizes the idea of musical undertones and listens like an imitation of its subject matter: discomfort in its tendency to fall apart is only a product of how perfectly it defines and represents the infinite rap possibilities of a heavily digital world.

Listen: JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

21. Kero Kero Bonito – Time ’n’ Place, [Polyvinyl; 2018]

By Justin Cudahy, Columns Editor

Kero Kero Bonito’s transition from their electropop and J-pop roots into more diverse sounds of alt-rock, sound pop and power pop with Time ’n’ Place was a risk that absolutely paid off. The experimental soundscape of this LP doesn’t stray too far from its original lyrical content and themes which gave their breakthrough album, Bonito Generation, its own personality. With Time ’n’ Place, Sarah Bonito continues her discourse on exploring and celebrating the small things in life and growing up coupled with her signature cutesy and playful style of singing. Many of the tracks on this record will sometimes deconstruct on the spot, starting off as a catchy synth-pop track before totally breaking down and erupting into a mass of noise. The closing track, “Rest Stop” starts off out of something from an Animal Crossing game until about midway through in which Bonito sings softly behind a series of sound glitches as the album reaches its end. It’s weird… and it’s great.

Listen: Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place

Read the full review for Time ‘n’ Place here.

22. Kanye West – ye, [Getting Out Our Dreams II; 2018]

By Kwase Lane, Staff Writer

2018’s been a rollercoaster for anyone trying to follow Kanye’s career in 2018. ye is definitely a high watermark for him this year. With many asking what’s going on in his head, Kanye decided to give the masses the answer to their question. ye is beautifully vulnerable and offers listeners a genuine feeling look into the artist’s head. Kanye pulls no punches in terms of subject matter or musicality. This is shown right off the bat by the project’s initial track, “I Thought About Killing You”. Even just the name of the song radiates the frantic tone of the topics discussed in the album, but Kanye guides his audience through with a calm, sensible demeanor. If only he could do the same when talking to the press.

Listen: Kanye West – ye

23. boygenius – boygenius EP [Matador; 2018]

By Abby Jeffers, News Editor

Indie supergroup boygenius formed this year from the girl gang that is Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, and their debut self-titled EP is accessible yet oddly familiar. Languid, drawn-out melodies, harmonies that glisten and feel sweet like honey and slowly-burning builds bring elements of each artist to the EP. Vocals from Bridgers and Baker echo Dacus’s deep crooning on the bridge of the opening track, “Bite the Hand”, as she mourns, “I can’t love you how you want me to.” Despite a tracklist of only six songs, however, the boygenius EP is a neat blend of all three musicians, featuring heavy bass riffs that are reminiscent of Baker’s 2017 album Turn Out The Lights in “Salt in the Wound” just a few songs after Bridgers’ signature crushed-velvet vocals lament the deterioration of a relationship on “Me & My Dog”.

Listen: boygenius – boygenius EP

24. Lucy Dacus – Historian, [Matador; 2018]

By Emily DiAlbert, Copy Editor

After finding her voice on 2016’s No Burden, Lucy Dacus returned for her sophomore release with her all-too-familiar style, but this time with a far more intimate portrait of our favorite “funny girl.” Primarily focusing on her struggles with loss and carrying on afterward, Historian portrays Dacus’ inner chronicler, allowing her to tell her own story as well as the stories of those closest to her.

Throughout the work, Lucy’s warm and lulling vocals scoop you up into a comforting embrace that you don’t know you’ll need until you’re tearing up. On power ballads like “Night Shift” and “Body to Flame”, Lucy and her band build on one another to create none other than pure, moving magic. And even on the lighter tracks, Lucy still packs a heavy punch through her witty lyrics. Historian, just like its creator, is timeless and full of talent. With what seems like dozens of years’ worth of experience and wisdom put into just her second ever release, there’s really nowhere to go but up for Lucy Dacus, and we’re oh-so-excited to see what this historian chronicles next.

Listen: Lucy Dacus – Historian

25. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

By Devon Hannan, Editorial Director

After years of country music being the butt end of a bad joke, Kacey Musgraves‘ Golden Hour may single-handedly save the genre from self-imploding. Sonically, Golden Hour is packed with synthy textures, moving chord progressions and the sweetest touch of twang. Musgraves pairs high-energy bangers such as “High Horse” with perfectly emotional serenades like “Slow Burn” and  “Space Cowboy” to create one of the most healing records country music has ever seen.

Above all else, Golden Hour was made for those unafraid to embrace femininity. Hell-bent on staying out of the boys club, Musgraves ensures that everyone with half a heart is welcome to join her party. When looking at the future of country music, everyone’s eyes should be on Musgraves.

Read the full review for Golden Hour here.

Listen: Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s