The lull between Christmas and the New Year has always been time to catch up on recommendations from holiday parties and year-end lists. Here are our favorite albums from 2018, summed up in 1Hundred words.
Written by Dennis Tracy, Stevie Logan, Rilka Noel, Tylah Gantt, Anthony, Allie Tollaksen, Matt McMahon, Brandon Smith, Mary Gring, Erin McAuliffe, Adam Ramos, and Jack Riedy
Saba - Care For Me
Care For Me is Saba's response to the murder of his cousin and collaborator John Walt. His grief is a prism, absorbing each day and splintering it into a desaturated rainbow of emotions that the introverted MC elaborates through flexible but never showy flows. The beats by a Pivot Gang braintrust are impeccable, an array of off-kilter chord structures unified by crisp snares. Saba makes you feel decades of family history and urban life weighing on his shoulders, and yet the sunshine of closer "Heaven All Around Me" still feels truly earned. Long live John Walt.
various - I’m Not Here To Hunt Rabbits
The most anticipated album of the year—for me—was an album I didn’t know would be released in 2018. I’d first heard of the artists from the compilation I’m Not Here To Hunt Rabbits on YouTube nearly 10 years ago, and hoped for a record ever since. The videos featured a style of guitar playing unique to a community in Botswana, with artists singing folk and blues songs over guitar that walked and jumped and danced in open tuning. This year’s release, featuring 8 artists playing that distinctive guitar as well as keyboard and fenjoro, exceeds all expectations.
Malingerer - Cloud Castle Lake
I’m utterly enamored with Cloud Castle Lake lead singer Daniel McAuley‘s performance on the Dubliners’ debut LP Malingerer. It’s a performance I’m convinced he completely resigned himself to, one where if you asked him for more, he’d have no way of actually giving anything above what’s already captured on record. His falsetto twists and turns without reservation and intertwines with the band’s soft guitar tones and tom-tom heavy, new agey operatics in a performance that compels you to experience it with your entire spirit. It’s dramatic and unburdening in a way that I’m eager to open myself up to time and time again, a sense which no other album transcended this year.
Matt McMahon (Twitter) is a freelance writer currently living in Dallas, whose work has appeared in Passion of the Weiss, Vinyl Me Please, and NYMag. He’s listened to a lot of music this year and he’s very tired.
Forth Wanderers - Forth Wanderers
Forth Wanderers’ self-titled indie label debut came with little anticipation outside of the east coast realm of DIY, despite being signed to west coast label Sub Pop. The quintet - originally formed in Montclair, New Jersey - found the time to make a masterpiece of 10 songs lasting 32 minutes that leaves you asking, “Is this a current or former Sub Pop band?” Vocalist Ava Trilling’s words linger with pain but echo with reassurance throughout the whole album. Whether it’s subtle opening to “Nevermine” or the entrancing tones of “Saunter,” Forth Wanderers has something to offer for any fan in 2018 and beyond.
Brandon Smith (Twitter, Instagram) is a freelance writer currently located in Chicago whose work has appeared on Third Coast Review. Brandon can be found at the nearest Binny's or embracing the quietness of Irving Park.
Freddie Gibbs - Freddie
Do you like 808s so heavy that they'll make your car speakers look like Daffy during duck season? Do you hear a faint "woah Kenny" in your head every time you get good news? Do you like hearing one of the best rappers alive brag about his dope boy past? If so, Freddie is the tape for you. With 03 Greedo sneering like '88 Eazy, "Death Row" is Gibbs' "Boyz-N-The-Hood" for the trap era. Others might buy back snatched chains or rent foreign cars just to snap a pic, but between this and Fetti, Gibbs' product is always pure.
Tasha - Alone At Last
If trudging through blankets of snow makes you wish you were in bed, turn on Tasha and feel your heartbeat slow to a calm. The activist, poet, and vocalist wrote her debut album as music for self-care, reinvigorating for the soul like a good night's sleep for the body. It's full of luscious guitar lines and loose rhythms, confident through knowledge of self. On "Kind of Love," she tells a lover that she wants them more, doubting whether she's grown enough to say it, over wisps of bass and backing vocals. The guitar solo rises to wash away any doubt.
Rich Jones - The Shoulder You Lean On
Rich Jones came here to make friends. He announces so on “Coin Toss,” introducing his album with a magic trick groove of kicks and syncopated bass. The Shoulder You Lean On is produced by J.Kelr of Blended Babies, and the warm beats fit Jones like the wool jacket on the cover. Even with trap snares, the record feels invitingly retro, like a gem unearthed from your cool aunt’s record bin. Jones has refined his sophisticated but smooth flow over years in Chicago’s scene, whether he’s rapping about watching palm trees sway or feeling like “the deck was stacked before you dealt”. Better get acquainted.
Grapetooth - Grapetooth
What if the Replacements were Jamiroquai? Two roommates, one a member of Twin Peaks, one a bedroom electronic artist, pair groovy drum loops with dumpster synth riffs for the ideal mosh pit soundtrack. On "Violent," singer Clay Frankel howls like he'll beat back a horde from hell for love. By "Hallelujah," he's crooning over Chris Bailoni's gauzy keys. The duo's name stems from their affinity for red wine, the catalyst for late night recording sessions. Their songs pulse with the warm earnestness that comes from finishing a bottle or two with a friend. See them this summer if the crowds don't swallow the stage again.
Mac Miller - Swimming
Through addiction, isolation, and depression, Mac Miller was drowning. Then he swam. Just as it looks, this is a steady but patient reflection set in the clouds. Bouncy beats and soulful melodies bring the poetry out of Mac's lyrics. "Self Care" probes through darkness found between a man and himself, while "Wings" finds strength & energy within and without. "2009" sheds a decade of troubles. After constantly redefining himself with each new release, Mac Miller does not endeavor to arrive anywhere on Swimming - no need for a grand finale. Instead, he shows that the shore was always in sight. RIP.
Anthony is a grad student from the suburbs. He's on his way to hell so let him know if you need him to pick you up anything.
Ness Nite - Dream Girl
Dream Girl sounds like the future. Ness Nite’s self-identified “braless” music effortlessly flows in and out of indie pop, rap, and hip hop. On tracks like “Magic Bitch”, “Xtra”, and even the dreamier “Watercolor Roses”, Ness flexes her particular brand of blasé bar delivery. On “Magic Bitch” she almost whispers stand out line “does that impress you?/swore I gave a fuck l/I meant to” in between breathy hooks and verses. Dream Girl finds its strength in Ness Nite’s casual ownership of both her feminine and sexual identity. Instead of making either the focal point of the album she weaves in lyrical moments like “it’s her dream and it’s my dream and it’s all art” on “Watercolor Roses” and “I rock my fur coat in the summer/ tryna cop Malia’s number” on “Xtra.” In a word Dream Girl feels purposeful, from Frey’s production to Nite’s lyricism.
Tylah Gantt (Instagram) manages Ness Nite. Her creative works have been featured in online journal Queen Mob’s Tea House.
Ariana Grande - Sweetener
2018 had heavenly highs and hellish lows for Grande. Sweetener’s angelic intro leads into the bubbly “blazed,” evoking the fires of the year (and a coping mechanism). “The light is coming” and “no tears left to cry” became rallying cries: songs rooted in past pain that flourish into vibrant, hip-swaying hope. Sometimes timelines wrap up the year in a bow. But sometimes they speed up: ripping a hole through the box, stealing your scissors, and unraveling your tape. To me it warranted time to wallow. To Grande it was time to write “thank u, next”. Grande has graciously defied time and expectations. And as I blow out my Saint Ariana Grande prayer candle, I'm convinced that “God is a woman”.
Erin McAuliffe (Twitter, Instagram) is a freelance music journalist from Chicago whose work has appeared in Notre Dame Magazine and Third Cost Review. You can usually find her at her day job (innovating the chicken menu for McDonald’s) or under a disco ball.
Camp Cope - How to Socialise & Make Friends
Aggravation, that was 2018 in a nutshell. Cue Camp Cope’s How to Socialise & Make Friends: frustration to the tune of the catchiest punk the year had to offer. The Melbourne 3-piece’s sophomore effort found themselves crystalizing their patented brand of jangly guitar melodies, soaring hooks and witty lyrics to lauded effect. Whether she is singing about misogyny in the industry (“The Opener”), a sexual assault encounter (“The Face of God”) or the death of her father (I’ve Got You”), vocalist Georgia Maq showcases a truly engaging emotional range while maintaining a kick-ass vocal standard track to track. Most years my favorite record is a piece of beauty to behold but this year I just needed to yell and Camp Cope provided the perfect backdrop for me and more.
Adam Ramos (Instagram) is a freelance writer in Chicago whose work has appeared in Third Coast Review. Catch him at shows across the city in a bright blue and orange Olympia Beer jacket.
Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
It’s been five years since Arctic Monkeys released the highly successful AM, and it makes sense: building a futuristic colony on the moon was bound to take awhile. Written on a Steinway & Sons piano, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino details Alex Turner’s deep space through observation and nostalgia. “Life’s become a spectator sport” filled with “technological advances” and “brain-shrinking images.” There’s not much we can do about that except maybe visit the Information-Action Ratio rooftop taqueria or steal a kiss underneath the moon’s sideboob. TBH&C’s eleven delirious—and honest—tracks both let us escape and bring us back down to earth.
Mary Gring (Twitter, Instagram) is an artist from South Bend whose work has appeared throughout the Midwest. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art in Media and lives with her kitty roommate in Chicago.
Flasher - Constant Image
Constant Image is about trying to make it through the day despite knowing the empire is crumbling around you. The cover's neon palette burns the brain like trying to cure a migraine with THC in time for a closing shift. The trio's voices, trained by a decade of customer service, never rise to a scream despite the indignation. They compensate with caffeine addled tempos and cutting lyrical commands, urging "violate your terms of service, shoplift, you don't deserve this". Beyond a few production flourishes, Flasher wrings a range of grooves from four taut instruments. Imagine if the B-52s had to drive Uber to afford hairspray.
Kali Uchis - Isolation
I remember flying into Miami International Airport on the morning after I quit my first job in New York City, the sweet, silky voice of Kali Uchis humming in my ear, “Live fast and never die, I’m moving at the speed of light...” Isolation glitters with dreamy funk lonerism and takes you on a magical journey through all the good parts of Florida and the depths of Uchis’s diary. Her song “Nuestro Planeta” speaks to me the most because it describes her sweet yearning for love, a theme that that echoes throughout the album:
Hola, ¿me recuerdas?
(Hi, do you remember me?)
Era yo a la que tanto querías
(It was me you loved so much)
Dame esta noche entera
(Give me this entire night)
Que seamos solo tú y yo, oh oh oh
(Let's be just you and me, oh oh oh)
The sad and pleading lyrics paired with the reggaeton beats and Uchis’ sultry voice put the image of my head of a girl in a bubble gum pink room with creamy satin bed sheets dancing slowly in the mirror in her underwear with her eyes closed, dreaming about one day being acknowledged. Kali Uchis created a debut album that is genre bending, mystical, and relatable - putting her at the forefront of emerging artists of our time.
Ohmme - Parts
Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham’s guitars twist like shoelaces to hold an Ohmme song together. Along with drummer Matt Carroll, the duo fill Parts with unexpected chords and rhythms honed by years in Chicago’s improvised music scene. The multi-instrumentalists are two voices on your shoulder, angelic or devilish in the course of each song. Family members are saintly (“Grandmother”) and toxic (“Liquor Cabinet”). Lust is cultivated (“Peach”) and condemned (“Left Handed”). The duo renders the nuances of every subject in the deep blue murk of the cover. If you too need new icons, look no further.
DJ Taye - Still Trippin’
Still Trippin's footwork is 160 bpm MPC jazz sculpted into pop form, ready for house parties, club shows, and Lolla. Local luminary Chuck Inglish becomes one of the few rappers brave enough to ride a footwork beat, while Taye and his producer peers prove that the best way to rap around the triplets is to program them yourself first. "Trippin" and "Anotha4" are new party & bullshit classics, and Taye knows when to let the beat speak for itself. The tracks hum with nervous energy like a block party forced inside by a Chicago winter. As essential as Double Cup.
JPEGMAFIA - Veteran
JPEGMAFIA prefers to rap when he can see the whites of their eyes, skipping the stage for the throng. His beats gurgle and shriek, daring listeners to abscond for the padded walls of a corporate Chill Vibes playlist. The artist born Barrington Hendricks filters deadpan humor and righteous fury through the rotted rhetoric of the right-wing. Who else would co-opt a white supremacist dogwhistle to title a revenge fantasy against domestic abusers? Or use a beat hard enough to start a street fight to call himself the new Beyonce? "You think you know me?" his tag taunts. You don't, but Peggy knows us.
Beach Bunny - Prom Queen
Lili Trifilio and co. leap forward sonically to match her songs' polish. "Prom Queen" and "Adulting" navigate post-adolescence with Kool-Aid hair dye and riffs. "Painkiller" coasts to conclusion on a disco breakdown. (Don't forget single "Sports", with a coda so clever and bitter it would make Elvis Costello jealous.) "6 Weeks" is a 2016 bedroom ukulele strummer reborn as a propulsive anthem about replaying a song to find the feelings you left in it before a relationship went sour. When their full-length drops next year, plenty more people will be enshrining their hopes and heartbreaks in Beach Bunny songs.
Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth
Kamasi Washington throws a three-hour party of jazz. Washington wanted to make an album about how he currently sees and feels about the state of this world. Every song is energetic with killer jams an instrumentation. From the aggressive “Fists of Fury” to his lovely Street Fighter ode, it’s an album that literally moves Heaven and Earth. You can feel Washington’s anger in the tempo and lyrics, as well as the love he has to give. After years of working as a sideman for acts like Kendrick Lamar, Washington proves he is more than capable of leading his own band.
Dennis Tracy (Twitter, Instagram) is a freelance writer and video editor from Chicago whose work previously appeared at the Marquette Wire and Medium. He is currently working over at @ologicalonline as a social media coordinator as well as various other projects.
Robyn - Honey
Robyn did not deliver the album full of “crying in the club” songs that the gays expected, and we’re better for it. The songs on Honey are looser, and more human, and celebrate things our culture has rejected: nuance and forgiveness and sincerity. “Between the Lines” is a full immersion seduction anthem. Robyn duets with to-die-for disco strings on “Because It’s in the Music”. And “Ever Again” captures that bittersweet wishful thinking - when you’re hoping for the best but old enough to know better. More than a pop sugar rush - like its namesake, Honey is rich with flavor and feeling.