2018. It’s been some time since a year came to define itself so apparently as this past one did. 2018 saw tumultuous politics become even more fiery, but even as our world seemingly tears apart, we all band together under the sentiment of moving forward to keep going. “It’s 2018” became less of a meme and more of a statement as time went on - and as the new year approaches, we’re all reflecting on how much really changed this year.
Music certainly saw its fair share of important movements this year. Hip-hop continued to dominate, Travis Scott finally releasing his long-awaited ASTROWORLD while Kanye West produced several powerful records this year. Pop music kept evolving, its modern message of “even if it’s not okay now, it will be” coming to captivate all of us as we find hope in it. Rock made a comeback, artists like Mike Shinoda rising out of the ashes to deliver his debut solo record, overcoming the demons of grief while Muse redefined their sound in one of their most eclectic records yet. 2018 gave us a lot of music - and here are the 50 albums that defined the year for us.
Passenger‘s reflective indie-folk mix has always provided for some great tracks, but that' reached a new level with 2018’s Runaway. Familiarly chill vibes in ‘Why Can’t I Change‘ and ‘Heart To Love‘ reveal that Passenger is doing more than just recalling his life: he’s trying to figure out how to change it, and without much luck. Runaway is like reaching an impasse in life, where all you can do is run; Passenger certainly seems to feel so, at least, with songs like title track ‘Runaway‘ seeking the strength to move forward. While the latter half of the record trends towards a more appreciative tone (in songs including ‘To Be Free‘ and ‘Eagle Bear Buffalo‘), it’s the more emotional tracks, namely the heartbroken opener ‘Hell Or High Water,’ where Passenger really shines and let’s himself be vulnerable.
Instrumental music has the unique property of transporting you to wherever your mind allows you to go. That being said, it’s hard to find the perfect balance between storytelling and quality - luckily, A Hack and A Hacksaw managed to find just the right blend of the two in Forest Bathing. Middle Eastern elements will transport you from the Egyptian deserts in ‘Alexandria‘ to the lively bustle of a town in ‘The Washing Bear.’ Closing track ‘Bayati Maqam‘ hardly feels like an end to a journey, but concludes the record in a fittingly summative way, the dark and independent instruments creating a majestic atmosphere. Forest Bathing is a brilliant Middle Eastern journey, masterfully brought together by an Arabian orchestra and A Hack and A Hacksaw.
Elder Brother‘s latest record is proof that diversity adds a whole new level to storytelling. Their new record Stay Inside is full of pain, but the band channels it in several different ways in an effort to try and understand it. From the confusion of the grand build in ‘Unnatural History‘ to the tantalizing melodies of ‘No Reason,’ Stay Inside doesn’t ever stick to one sound to cope with pain. Their quest to really channel this pain seems to meet dead ends, as each song ends powerfully but not without questions. The record ends powerfully and anthemically with the beaten down ‘I Don’t Think It Stops,’ building slowly into a massive bridge with a big guitar solo before exploding with one final burst of emotion to take things out. Elder Brother explored their pain in ways few others dare to, and Stay Inside is as therapeutic as it is painful.
Logic burst into 2018 looking to prove himself once and for all, and he certainly did everything he could to achieve that. Bobby Tarantino II, the sequel to his cult-classic mixtape, set the hip-hop world alight when it dropped, and not without reason. Logic goes off in this record, showing off his quickfire abilities in tracks like ‘44 More‘ and in ‘Wassup‘ with Big Sean. Bobby Tarantino II is more than just an onslaught of skill: it’s a diverse record full of fun and confidence, with songs as characteristic as ‘Indica Badu‘ and as serious as the fiery ‘Contra.’ There’s no denying that with Bobby Tarantino II, Logic definitely solidified his place amongst the greats of modern hip-hop.
Every good story has a sort of ebb and flow to it, and S. Carey perfects that concept amazingly in his record Hundred Acres. The indie record feels like an inside look into the artist’s past, anecdotes in tracks like ‘True North‘ and ‘Fool’s Gold‘ adding that personal touch to the record. The natural wonder of ‘Yellowstone‘ and the peaceful atmosphere of ‘Rose Petals‘ feel like childhood memories, while the darker ‘Hideout‘ tells a more pertinent story. Hundred Acres is an autobiography of sorts, and in S. Carey’s writing we find ourselves being reminded of our own pasts, too.
45. Logic - YSIV
Logic had a busy - and tough - year, but that didn’t stop him from constantly delivering. His second spot on our Top 50 Albums list comes with YSIV, his mixtape that saw him dive deep into hip-hop’s roots to offer up a whole different experience from Bobby Tarantino II. Title track ‘YSIV‘ is a great example of everything this record has to offer: an old-school west-coast style beat underlying Logic’s unstoppable flow and lyricism. The rest of the record doesn’t slack, either, the entire Wu-Tang Clan joining him for ‘Wu Tang Forever‘ while Jaden Smith shows a bit of aggression in ‘ICONIC.’ Chiller tracks including ‘One Day‘ with Ryan Tedder and ‘Ordinary Day‘ with Hailee Steinfeld provide some nice color to the record. Closing track ‘Last Call‘ is a reflective and thankful finale, Logic thanking his fans for bringing him to where his is now while recalling his past struggles. Life isn’t easy all of the time, but even when all seems to fall apart, Logic reminds us that struggle will always give way to success.
There were a lot of times this year where things felt like they wouldn’t get better. More than ever, the negativity seems to be all that dominates the Internet and media. There were plenty of times that extended into our personal lives, too; it certainly did for Tomberlin. In her new record At Weddings, Tomberlin bared her heart as she let go of all the things that hold her back. It feels like a constant battle between maintaining optimism and losing it, evident in ‘Any Other Way,’ where her reflective and sweet vocals try desperately to stay optimistic before things coming crashing down in ‘Untitled 1.’ This mental warfare only continues to show the complication behind Tomberlin’s struggle, which seems to reach it’s harshest point in ‘I’m Not Scared,’ where a fragile Tomberlin has to ensure herself that things will get better: "And to be a woman is to be in pain / And my body reminds me almost everyday that I was made for another, but I don’t want to know that / Cause it happened once and I always look back." Even when all seems lost, however, Tomberlin still dejectedly tries to find her way out of her funk, almost to an inspiring degree. The world will throw everything it has at you one day: learn from Tomberlin, and be prepared to move forward knowing that.
It’s hard to qualify Kamasi Washington‘s brilliance, but we can certainly find a deep appreciation for it. The saxophonist returned this year with the out-of-this-world Heaven & Earth, a sprawling jazz journey through the beauty of our own planet and beyond. The first half of the record feels familiarly mortal, numbers like ‘Testify‘ and ‘Tiffakonkae‘ seemingly exploring the beauty of our world, while the Latin subtleties of opening track ‘Fists Of Fury‘ help show the drama that hides within it, too. The second half is far more supernatural, tracks like the otherworldly ‘The Space Travelers Lullaby‘ the wondrous ‘The Journey‘ captivating you with their beauty. Kamasi Washington has a way of capturing beautiful soundscapes with his music, and Heaven & Earth may be the finest example of that yet.
The woes of the indie artist never seem to stop, but most have learned how to turn them into the subjects of their music. Courtney Barnett‘s issues aren’t anything groundbreaking, but they’re something we all know well. Her record Tell Me How You Really Feel is similarly as straightforward, but that adds to its charm. Barnett' showed with this record that it doesn’t take a life-changing event to make good music: all it takes are true-to-heart emotions that everyone knows. The entrancing lyrics of the intro song ‘Hopefulessness‘ is a perfect example of this: the repetition of “No one is born to hate“ is a simple yet prompt message. Barnett’s dejected timbre allows for the listener to key into the more intimate vibes as the messages aren’t affected by layers of sound - rather, Barnett says everything promptly and effectively. Perhaps most charming on the record is ‘Need A Little Time,’ a simple and chill indie rocker that rolls with a warm drive, nice melodies, and even a bit of conviction. You don’t need to change the way something works to make a difference: you just have to be true to yourself, which is something we could all do a little more.
Jon Hopkins manages to turn almost anything he touches into something magical, so it’s no surprise that this year’s Singularity was like a journey in its own right. With the gentleness of a dimly lit star in the night sky and the curiosity of a new-born, Singularity envelops you in this enchanting atmosphere, the slow chords of opening track and title track ‘Singularity‘ wrapping around you like a warm blanket. The atmospheric record is fairly long with some pretty lengthy tracks, but the magic of each song will distract you from that fact, so the twelve-minute build of ‘Luminous Beings‘ just makes you feel like you’re listening to another fairy tale. The emotion behind closing track ‘Recovery‘ is almost tangible as this magical journey ends beautifully, gorgeous pianos quietly ringing alongside ambience. Only instrumental music with such passion could ignite such powerful imagery as Hopkins does on this record.
At times it feels like hip-hop is becoming overly obsessed with fame and money, so when a damning record like this comes along, it’s always a nice refresher. J.I.D. delivered a real record with DiCaprio 2, offering up not only a lot of heart and soul, but some powerful messages, too. DiCaprio 2 feels like an onslaught of energy from start to finish, ‘Slick Talk‘ delivering unique and awesome vibes almost immediately. The flow and beats throughout DiCaprio 2 are on another level, from ‘Westbrook‘ with A$AP Ferg to closing track ‘Despacito Too.‘ ‘Off Deez‘ with J. Cole delivers the most heat on the record, the two rappers trading off effortlessly as they unleash an unstoppable flow from start to finish. Fingers crossed that hip-hop follows this trend of passion into the next year.
39. Oceanator - Lows
Few albums were as reflective as Oceanator‘s Lows this year. The solo project of Brooklyn-native Elise Okusami runs deep with emotion as she retells her painful memories in an attempt to overcome them. Opening track ‘Coming Home‘ establishes the themes of the record wonderfully, the somber lyrics echoing: “You're an ocean away, and that's the way it's supposed to be, but still I'm coming home.“ Oceanator constantly hits you with powerful tracks, from the epic, intense ‘Tell Me‘ to the monstrously building closing track ‘Inhuman.’ Lows is full of surprises, including the huge bridge of the bluesy ‘Not Around.’ Much like life, Lows is unpredictable and diverse - it’s never quite positive, but its reflective nature will definitely help some of your deeper wounds to heal.
Denzel Curry is a relatively new name on the hip-hop scene, but he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with. His debut TA13OO is like trap on heroin, probably being as close to metal as you can get without actually having a guitar in it. Perhaps the clearest show of the album’s sound is ‘BLACK METAL TERRORIST,’ a raging song full of huge distorted bass synths, angry, almost screamed bars, and an evil atmosphere. Lyrically, Curry always has some grit, even when the instrumentals may be a bit cooler (i.e. ‘BLACK BALLOONS‘ and title track ‘TABOO‘). TA13OO is unrelenting, pushing trap in a direction it never quite explored while also maintaining a pretty catchy album.
The Neighbourhood spent 2018 redefining their sound, keeping their dark and sensual nature and exploring a more electronic element. Their self-titled record The Neighbourhood is the outcome of their experimentation, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Dominated by its attitude, The Neighbourhood comes at you like a flirty guy at a club. ‘Flowers‘ wins you over with a mischievous innocence before more sensual numbers like ‘Nervous‘ and ‘Stay With Me‘ capture that signature sexual intimacy. ‘Softcore‘ is the perfect culmination of new and old for The Neighbourhood, the moody electronic track led by its swagger and melodies. The Neighbourhood definitely took a chance with this record, and it paid off in what is one of the year’s most intimate numbers of the year.
A truly visceral record feeds off the energy of the musicians and lives and breathes as its own piece of art. That’s exactly the attention Animal Flag gave Void Ripper. Animal Flag’s latest record draws from the most animalistic energy we can muster, opening track ‘Morningstar‘ starting off patiently, as if a hunter waiting for its prey. That prey arrives in following track ‘Void Ripper‘ as the record bursts to life. Tracks like ‘Fair‘ bring more energy to the album, while ‘Lord Of Pain‘ and ‘Candace‘ offer a more evil, brooding atmosphere. There’s a carefulness in this wild record that shows the passion and musicianship of Animal Flag and how they put this record together, and like how few others can really manage to do.
Indie’s self-proclaimed anti-Christ returned in 2018, but his ego took a bit of a hit. Father John Misty‘s God’s Favorite Customer was written during a two month span in which he rarely left his hotel room. Josh Tillman‘s signature pessimism plays out in opening track ‘Hangout At The Gallows‘ and title track ‘God’s Favorite Customer,’ but what’s more important is where he lets himself be a bit more transparent. In a year that tested all of our resilience, even Father John Misty couldn’t help but let go of some emotions, in tracks including ‘The Songwriter,’ where Tillman ponders what life would be like if his life was switched with his wife’s, and the even more worrying ‘Please Don’t Die,’ where Tillman sings of his wife begging him to not commit suicide. Even the harshest, hardest souls have humanity behind them.
The advent of K-Pop took the world by storm in 2018, and BTS finally reached an international audience. That pressure didn’t get to them, as they delivered several records this year that show exactly why K-Pop is bent on world domination. The boy-band’s Love Yourself 轉 'Tear' showed not only the power of the genre, but the diversity of it, as well. Numbers such as ‘FAKE LOVE‘ and ‘So What‘ deliver the bombast beats and energy typically associated with K-Pop, but other songs explore different avenues. ‘Airplane pt. 2‘ combines Latin music with K-Pop’s swagger, leading for a very unique listen while tracks like ‘Paradise‘ and ‘Love Maze‘ seem to tackle a more Americanized version of pop. Even ‘Outro: Tear‘ takes a moment to change things up, ending the record on a pretty aggressive hip-hop note. K-Pop is taking over the world, and BTS are riding that sweet wave to success.
33. Lissie - Castles
It seems like everyone has something to prove nowadays, but no one’s proven themselves as much as Lissie has. Castles is dramatic in all the right ways, and captures just about everything you’d want from Lissie. From the peaceful but existential opener ‘World Away‘ to the massive, powerful closure ‘Meet Me In The Mystery,’ all of Lissie’s emotions come out in a thoughtful and provocative way. The metaphor of her body as a breaking castle in title track ‘Castles‘ is a nice thematic centerpoint of the record, defining the rest of the record’s woes as well. There’s a lot of pained emotion in Castles, but they come together to paint the portrait of a woman ready to take herself back.
When it comes to losing a band member, not many losses hit as close to home as in Architects. Their first full effort without guitarist and songwriter Tom Searle, Holy Hell, is as oppressively heavy as the burden of losing a brother and friend. Single ‘Hereafter‘ roars with a sense of impossibility, as if the band know the gravity of the loss will overcome them. Regardless, their crushing riffs and thrilling screams provide for loads of energy, and even hope, especially in songs like opening track ‘Death Is Not Defeat‘ and ‘Damnation.’ It feels like every note is performed in dedication to their fallen bandmate, each kick and each powerchord feeling like they pack the weight of that loss. 2018 came with its share of loss, but time and time again we overcame it, even, at times, with rage, confusion, and chaos, like in Holy Hell.
Jaden Smith is one of the most surprisingly good artists of the year, last year’s SYRE showing that his blend of indie, rock, and hip-hop was something to be threatened with. While not coming back with a full-fledged effort this year, his mixtape The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story certainly proved that he’s not gone anywhere. His aesthetic is still very apparent, the atmosphere and signature chill of opening track ‘SOHO‘ making certain of that. More of Smith’s raw ability is shown in this album, from the rapping in ‘A Calabasas Freestyle‘ to the fantastic melodies of ‘Rollin Around.’ Perhaps not as all-inclusive as SYRE, but impressive all the same, showing that he’s still a step ahead of the rest.
Pop’s R&B king The Weeknd kept things relatively quiet this year, but that didn’t stop him from delivering one of the genre’s best EP’s of the year. My Dear Melancholy, explores more of The Weeknd’s sensual darkness, opening track ‘Call Out My Name‘ perfectly capturing the tortured love and drama of the record, the dark chords and The Weeknd’s pained delivery saying it all. The short EP is dynamic, with tracks like ‘I Was Never Here‘ featuring a beat change and focussing on dreamier atmospheres, while closing track ‘Privilege‘ builds dramatically in a similar fashion to the opening track. The Weeknd’s sound never gets old, and this EP is the perfect soundtrack for any night on the town.
Fall Out Boy certainly had a great year, and they humble acknowledged that with their surprise Lake Effect Kid EP, a short EP dedicated to their hometown of Chicago. With a similar flair as this year’s MANIA, Lake Effect Kid was a short burst of energy that only solidified the band’s big comeback this year. There’s a threat in the big punchy bass and cried vocals of ‘Super Fade‘ that precedes the awesome drop, while the loud guitar riff of title track ‘Lake Effect Kid‘ shows a return to the band’s more ambitious roots. ‘City In A Garden‘ is where the band’s worlds collide as the alternative drive and pounding drums provide for another feel good jam from the band. You really just couldn’t go wrong with Fall Out Boy this year.
Nothing But Thieves are perhaps one of rock’s most interesting modern acts, and they don’t stop providing; even on short EPs. This year, they offered up the short - yet massive - What Did You Think When You Made Me This Way? EP, gracing us with four new, powerful tracks. Rock and roll flair opens the record up tenfold with single ‘Forever & Ever More,’ while a funkier, groovier energy comes through in ‘You Know Me Too Well.’ ‘Gods‘ is also filled with energy, before ‘Take This Lonely Heart‘ ends the album on a somber build. Even in the little time they have, Nothing But Thieves pack this record to the brim with drama, action, and fun, delivering some pretty powerful songs in the process.
If you know Immortal Reviews, you’ll know country isn’t our favorite genre by any means; regardless of genre, however, Kacey Musgraves definitely surprised more than just us. The album reads like a diary, Musgraves letting go of her harshest burdens through her country-like delivery. Her personality comes through in numbers like ‘Space Cowboy,’ which are so delightfully her that it may even distract you from the pain and hurt behind the lyrics. Musgraves always seems to be coping with something or another, whether it be love (like in the tortured yet sweet ‘Butterflies‘) or loss (in ‘Mother,’ where she states, “I'm just sitting here thinking 'bout the time that's slipping / And missing my mother, mother.“) This album is more than a genre-defying country-pop record. It’s the attitude of picking yourself back up even when all the world throws you is negativity that makes this record inspiring.
26. Kanye West - ye
Kanye West was a busy man this year, producing records for several artists all while making his own music. One of his most pertinent releases, however, was his own: ye. Politics and controversies aside, West’s ye was an introspective look into his mind, revealing some pretty dark things. The album opens with ‘I Thought About Killing You,’ where West literally admits to contemplating the murder of someone he cares about as well as his own suicide. Thematically more along the lines of his pre-Yeezus material, ye continues to dish out some pretty powerful tracks, like the soulful ‘Ghost Town‘ and ‘Violent Crimes,’ the latter of which sees him reflecting on how his views of women have changed since the birth of his children. West has been destroyed by the public and media alike this year for his admittedly problematic statements, but if anything, ye is a testament to what’s going on inside of us all: behind every man is a deeper story that not everyone is aware of. 2018 taught us acceptance - perhaps ye should be part of that lesson.
Sometimes to make a powerful statement, you don’t have to do it in a unique way - just in a way that’s intrinsically you. That’s how Agua Rojo‘s Roses delivers its own story. The EP is like a breakup record, but not in a typical way: it’s all about finding yourself in the aftermath, the album’s drama acting as a front for the emotions that are just waiting to flood out. Opening track ‘Be Alone‘ brings the record to life immediately with dramatic vocals and an expansive, reverberating instrumental, the message really kicking in with ‘Roses‘ as Agua Rojo begins taking themselves back. Roses is a testament to the individual spirit, and Agua Rojo want you to know that even when times are tough, you’ll always have the power in there to keep moving forward.
One of 2018’s most surprising comebacks was blues rocker Hozier, who has been quietly plotting new music since his last record. He returned with the short but powerful Nina Cried Power EP, and the music was nothing short of spectacular. Title track ‘Nina Cried Power‘ says it all, the urgent drive and dramatic atmosphere empowered by Hozier’s deep timbre, beautiful melodies, and a powerful choir aided by Mavis Staples. The other tracks aren’t quite as heavenly powerful, but certainly make a huge impression: ‘NFWMB‘ rolls with huge attitude, while ‘Shrike‘ gets more intimate. Hozier certainly was one of the year’s most unexpected stars, but he burst back onto the scene with such power that he electrified music itself.
Hayley Kiyoko‘s rise this year felt like it happened overnight, though with an album as good as Expectations, it’s not so surprising. A huge part of 2018 was learning to accept one another truly and finally, and no one pushed that harder in the music world than Kiyoko. With plenty of tantalizing and sensual hits from ‘Curious‘ and ‘What I Need‘ featuring Kehlani to more empowering, building tracks like ‘Feelings‘ and ‘Wanna Be Missed,’ Kiyoko showed that not only is it not easy facing sexuality, but it’s also rewarding in the end. Perhaps we should all be a bit more like Kiyoko in the way we approach love: it’s all about the passion and discovery, and only you can decide who you give it to.
If anyone learned anything this year, it was to not mess with Eminem. The hip-hop legend dropped Kamikaze out of the blue at the end of the summer, and it wasn’t what anyone expected. Eminem returns to his angry predispositions that people complained was gone after his previous record Revival, and no one was ready. Eminem slaughters the rest of his competition in tracks like ‘Greatest‘ and ‘Lucky You‘ (with a shocking verse from Joyner Lucas), while upping himself in the other tracks, including ‘Stepping Stones‘ and ‘Not Alike.' Even closing track ‘Venom,’ though meme’d into oblivion, provides for a fun and classic Em-style listen.
21. Thrice - Palms
Thrice have always had a way of writing songs that are inexplicably powerful, yet continue to evolve their sound from record to record. This year’s Palms was no exception in their vast discography, the much more alternative and mellow record seeing Thrice test some new waters. The band’s previous angry confusion is gone and replaced by a more pained longing, evident in tracks like ‘The Dark‘ and ‘My Soul.’ Thrice stay true to their angrier past with the aggressive and energetic ‘A Branch In The River,’ while their new sound comes to an emotional climax in the conclusive ballad ‘Beyond The Pines,’ a tortured anthem that has Dustin Kensrue whispering to us in the finale as if he were taking his final breathes. Thrice never play around, and in one of their most personal records yet, they did not stray away from expectations.
While the band’s self-titled release later in the year was certainly a more fleshed out listen, it was The Neighbourhood‘s To Imagine EP at the start of the year that really brought in the captivating numbers. Featuring a handful of tracks that would later feature on the full effort, The Neighbourhood kicked off the year showing off their new evolution. It’s the EP-exclusive efforts that put this one ahead of the full record: ‘Heaven‘ creates the perfect sensual atmosphere with dark melodies and an enchanting groove, ‘Dust‘ brings more of an industrial intensity, and ‘Compass‘ bursts with ethereal bliss. Emotion and intimacy runs in the very veins of this EP.
It’s hard to accept an album that so perfectly captures society, but A Perfect Circle have done so this year in a way that you just can’t argue with. Eat The Elephant is not only powerful, but pertinent, too. Maynard James Keenan slams and observes society through his music, tackling some pretty broad messages in a surprisingly simple way. ‘Disillusioned‘ comments on our addiction to social media as Keenan sings about losing touch of reality (“Take a look around, find a way in the silence / Lie supine away with your back to the ground / Dis- and re-connect to the resonance now / You were never an island“), while ‘So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish‘ is more of an emotional goodbye to the greats we’ve lost over the last few years. It’s easy to look at Eat The Elephant as a slamming commentary, but if anything, it’s more of a snapshot and a celebration: this is where we are, and this is where we’re going. A Perfect Circle wants us to learn to love that, acknowledge our faults and improve.
2018 blessed us with a whole slew of new talent, but none had as unique a personality as Haley Heynderickx. The indie new-comer delivered her debut record I Need To Start A Garden this year, and its atmosphere alone was enough to solidify itself as an instant classic. Imagine waking up in an isolated wooden house in the middle of a large field, looking out the window to see nothing but fog. You step out onto the porch, take a seat, and just stare out into the misty oblivion, thinking: that’s the sound of I Need To Start A Garden. Slow, beautiful numbers like ‘No Face‘ and ‘Untitled God Song' help keep the atmosphere alive and evolving, while tracks like closing song ‘Drinking Song‘ reveal a more weathered life behind the perfect atmosphere. Heynderickx’s main attraction has to be ‘The Bug Collector,’ however, a delightfully sweet track filled with insect-themed metaphors and imagery. Only Heynderickx could make that sound endearing.
We all face tragedy in our lives, yet each blow feels so different from the last. Gia Margaret comes face to face with constant pain and trauma in There’s Always Glimmer, her innocent debut that shines a heartbreaking light onto a fragile heart. Opening track ‘Groceries‘ admits from the start: “It’s safe to say it’s been a hard year,“ Margaret preparing to unload a lifetime of regrets. ‘Smoke‘ cuts through you like an emotional knife, so to speak, the ghastly vocals and enveloping build providing the perfect atmosphere for you to grab your insecurities and float away with them. Margaret dives through a series of tough emotions, such as the chilling ‘In Normal Ways‘ or the existential ‘Exist.’ Closing track ‘West‘ cuts off abruptly, as if she herself cannot continue to face these haunting memories. Intimate, real, and even topical, Margaret’s debut perfectly captured the lonelier and harder moments of the year.
Finding ourselves was an important part of 2018, and Rae Morris‘s new record Someone Out There was the perfect soundtrack for just that. Morris’s sophomore effort found her refining her sound into the perfect blend of hope and pain, perhaps best seen in the album’s emotional centerpiece ‘Wait For The Rain.’ The slowly building pop anthem builds sweetly as Morris sing’s motivationally, gaining strength and passion as she seems to come into her own. The heartbreaking message of the song is also reflected in ‘Physical Form,’ but warmer, more reassuring tracks promise better times are ahead: opening track ‘Push Me To My Limit‘ offers a warm, airy atmosphere, while even ‘Dip My Toes‘ keeps the record fun by the end. Self-discovery and overcoming the past can be scary, but with the right inspiration - which is just what Someone Out There is - you’ll get there without worry.
It’s been a rough couple of years for the Stone Temple Pilots, but the band finally seem to be back on their feet. While they may have lost both of their former vocalists in the last years, the band have never sounded more alive with Jeff Gutt now fronting the band. It’s no surprise, then, that their comeback album was full of the grungy energy that defined their come up. Massive numbers including ‘Roll Me Under,’ ‘Six Eight,’ and ‘Red & Blues‘ show that STP is still going and kicking furiously, while slower numbers, including the Chester Bennington-dedicated ‘Finest Hour‘ acknowledge the pain they’ve been through over the last few years. When life kicks you down, you get back up with twice as much bite - that’s the biggest message to take away from Stone Temple Pilots.
TesseracT have been at the forefront of progressive metal and djent since their formation, but none of their records have hit like Sonder does. Defined by experimentation and a familiar explosiveness, Sonder is packed with action and drama. Opening track ‘Luminary‘ exhibits this combination wonderfully, the gentle electronic background accented by heavy guitar riffs. Melodies carry the soaring ‘Juno‘ while the jagged riffs of ‘Beneath My Skin / Mirror Image‘ offer heavy, sharp contrasts that make the record feel even more thrilling. The seven-minute epic ‘King‘ is perhaps all you need to hear to feel like you’ve been hit by the train that is this record, the constant build never ending before the deadly breakdown kicks in to melt your face off. TesseracT not only killed the game - they ended it.
Few bands have carved an identity for themselves like Son Lux have. The electronic group have made their sound even more eclectic with the surprisingly anthemic and powerful Brighter Wounds, a record defined by its chaos. From the huge bass hits of opening track ‘Forty Screams‘ to the haunting timbre of closing number ‘Resurrection,’ the record’s chaos paints a picture as you have no idea what lies beyond the next corner in each track. The beauty of this chaos is perhaps most promptly seen in ‘Dream State,’ an anthemic track that combines chaos with order. The song’s structure and instrumental is as wild and unpredictable as you’d expect, but its in their layering where they come together: huge bass and a driving drum beat carry soaring gang vocals that sing out in unison as the song itself seems to be giving up on itself as it continues to glitch and distort. In the end, however, the song never loses its integrity, holding itself together despite all the chaos around it and even within it. Poetic and pertinent to not only this last year, but our own daily lives, as well.
Those who dismissed Twenty One Pilots as another passing emo fad after Blurryface certainly missed out this year. Trench is one of the year’s biggest and most methodical records, diverse in both sound and message. The record follows the protagonist’s escape from the fictional city of Dema, to a haven for the “banditos” (escapees) known as Trench. The album is full of story-telling and world-building tracks, like the reggae-inspired ‘Nico and The Niners‘ and the more somber ‘Banditos.’ Meanwhile, the duo don’t lose sight of keeping things catchy and fresh, employing poppier elements in tracks like the explosive ‘Jumpsuit‘ and emotional brotherly ode ‘My Blood.’ The band continue to experiment with new sounds, trying out 80s soul in the chorus of ‘Morph,’ trap in ‘Levitate,’ and even adopt a more innocently romantic vibe in ‘Smithereens.’ The album’s more powerful moments are the somber ones, namely ‘Neon Gravestones,‘ an emotional piano ballad against suicide. Twenty One Pilots have long since passed the moniker of an emo band - they’ve become a staple of culture, and their stories and messages are ever more important today than ever.
It seemed that for awhile, Fall Out Boy were slowly losing their place in an evolving pop-punk soundscape, but 2018 proved that they were back and ready to kick. The very first notes of MANIA‘s opening track ‘Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea‘ demand your attention as huge synths, guitars, and drums underlie Patrick Stump‘s soulful and swagger-filled delivery. Alt. rock anthem ‘The Last Of The Real Ones‘ explodes to life as tracks including ‘HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T‘ and ‘Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)‘ plays towards Fall Out Boy’s more emotional, live-in-the-moment side. The band even take it to the gospel in ‘Church’ before the thrilling, poetic conclusion ‘Bishops Knife Trick‘ closes out what is undoubtedly Fall Out Boy’s most lively and energetic record in years.
Of all of Kanye West's projects release over the summer, his collaborative album KIDS WITH GHOSTS with Kid Cudi was by far the most evocative. Reflective, aesthetic, and apt, West and Cudi look at all the aspects of both their pasts and society around them to craft the powerful commentary in the record. From the aggressively anthemic intro 'Feel The Love' to the brilliant Santa Claus-referencing samples of '4th Dimension,' the production plays as pivotal a role as the lyrics themselves. Cudi and West face their failures in 'Fire' and incessant criticsm in 'Freee' before fully committing to look forward in 'Reborn,' offering a message of self-improvement as well. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a project of the times: an effort dedicated to bettering both the world and themselves.
Marmozets were the reviving force of punk-infused alternative rock when they broke onto the scene in 2015. Back with more societal anger and even bigger riffs, Knowing What You Know Now is a massive effort full of hard hitters like 'Habits' and the emotional ballad 'Me & You.' They leave no stones unturned, challenging society where they see fit: whether its political turmoil ('New Religion,' 'Like A Battery') or personal battles ('Insomnia'), Marmozets have a vengeance to settle and have proven that their wild spirit was not just a flash in the pan: it's here to stay, and it's staying with a vicious attitude.
In a world dominated by countless pop stars, AURORA has always stood out. The Norwegian singer’s folky and indie pop blend earned her a cult following, and her sound is only progressing. This year’s Infections Of A Different Kind (Step I) finally followed up her 2016 debut, delivering both natural anthems like ‘Queendom‘ and more introspective tracks like the haunting ‘Churchyard' and panicked ‘Gentle Earthquakes.’ Meanwhile, tracks like ‘It Happened Quiet‘ are the perfect representation of why AURORA is so important in music right now: no one has that same angelic nature about them like she does, and the way she makes her music come to life is almost like you’re watching a fairytale unfold.
Music is trending towards a genreless future, and amongst the new generation of these alternative artists is grandson, who is undoubtedly the most unique of the bunch. Bringing together elements of electronica, rock, indie, and just about everything else under the sun, grandson's haunting melodies and glitchy drops are some of music's most unique moments. Add to that a lazy revolutionary motive, and you have his debut EP a modern tragedy, vol. 1, complete with banging singles like 'Blood // Water' and haunting rockers like 'Overdose' and '6:00.' There's not quite anyone who sounds similar to him, but all the same shows that he's paving the way for a new future in music.
Rarely do you hear something as diverse yet so certain as Let's Eat Grandma's latest record I'm All Ears. Like a modern blend of CHVRCHES and Pink Floyd, Let's Eat Grandma build an expansive record out of drama, pain, and the idea of growing up. The album begins with carefree, fun tracks like 'Hot Pink' and 'Falling Into Me,' before the duo grows more introspective as they meet reality. The dejected 'Snakes & Ladders' and the closing track - the eleven minute epic of self exploration 'Donnie Darko' - see them go down that path of self-acceptance as they meet life head on in its most momentous and difficult times. It's deceivingly catchy, and will wrap you in and grow more as a personal memoir that slowly but surely begins to mirror its listener the longer it plays.
Muse are no stranger to grandiose themes and bombastic albums, and their latest effort is no different - but they bring a different vibe to the table this time. 2018’s Simulation Theory is an exploration of the idea we’re living in a simulation, dramatic tracks like 'Algorithm‘ and ‘Propaganda‘ attempting to overrun the simulation and take themselves back. The narrative of wanting to preserve what emotion humanity has left carries over from the warfare-minded Drones, yet Muse’s exploration of electronica in tracks like ‘The Dark Side‘ harken back to their earlier songs. Meanwhile, the punchy ‘Pressure‘ with its brass accents and ‘Thought Contagion‘ remain as revolutionary anthems to keep the attention of any potential rebel. Muse start down a new path with this one, but one that really sums them up perfectly.
The feeling of being in love is one that is hard to qualify. It's pure euphoria, and that is something that doesn't come by easily. The first half of Milk & Bone's Deception Bay is all about that feeling. With childlike curiosity, the duo celebrates and explores young love, from the feelings of an innocent crush to a growing passion, beautifully and sweetly capturing the emotions you'd feel on both sonic and lyrical planes. But, as the album hits it centers, it all turns as loneliness takes over love, heartbreak being all they know. From the melancholy search of 'Tmrw.' that chants "Let's see what tomorrow brings" to the ambient, reflective closure of ':'),' Milk & Bone explore two of life's most powerful emotions and takes you along on the ride, too.
Band's can easily find themselves having an identity crisis as they grow. For CHVRCHES, they experienced that with their third album, but instead of scrambling in the dark, they embraced it. With acoustic instrumentation supporting their famous synth soundscapes, CHVRCHES forge ahead on a new path in Love Is Dead. It's an album about accepting reality even when the past seems so tantalizing, from heartbreak tracks like 'My Enemy' (featuring The National's Matt Berninger) and 'Really Gone' to more energetic anthems like the instrument driven 'Graves,' it really feels like not only has CHVRCHES turned over a new stone, but they've thrown a stone as well. Even if the epic atmosphere of 'Never Say Die' or the "take yourself back" energy of 'Get Out' aren't necessarily new for the band, this record shows CHVRCHES at their best and with a new understanding of both their sound and themselves.
Once Mike Shinoda delivered the highly emotional Post Traumatic EP to launch his solo career at the start of the year, it was clear that he was going to turn his journey through grief into something powerful. And so he does with Post Traumatic, his debut album that looks back and ahead in the aftermath of losing his best friend and bandmate, Chester Bennington. The first half of the record is trapped in the past, numbers like 'Over Again' and 'Nothing Makes Sense Anymore' lost and confused. The second, however, is more optimistic and begins looking forward: 'Crossing A Line' sees Shinoda find the courage to pull himself back together, while 'World's On Fire' is an ode to his loved ones. It's an emotional record, but a reassuring one all the same: pain is universal, and the journey through grief is not an easy one. But by speaking out and trying to understand one another, we can reach that destination just a bit more easily.
We live in a tumultuous time. The chaos of every day seems to get lost in the constant dialogue of one big issue after another. Thirty Seconds To Mars perfectly captures the essence of that in their new album America. Neither wholly global nor personal, America is the soundtrack of society today. From the dream-inspiring lead single 'Walk On Water' to the epic orchestral theme of a tragic hero, closing track 'Rider,' Jared Leto and co. take a look at all the aspects of life and how society faces them. The thrill of love is celebrated in 'Dangerous Night' while it is dramatized in 'Love Is Madness' with Halsey, before the admiration of 'Great Wide Open' fills your heart with the want to unite and spread peace and tranquility. America is as much of a call-to-arms as it is a snapshot, but it naturally leads you to want to reach that point of unity by showing you the chaos head on. It's an album about humanity, and begs the question: are we moving forward, or stuck in the past?
What albums defined YOUR 2018? Stay tuned for our Top 50 Songs and Best New Artists of 2018 lists, and be sure to follow us on social media to stay covered on new music in 2019!