Best Albums of 2018
The year is coming to an end, and it's been a wild ride—indie comebacks, continuing hot streaks, and much more flooded our ears this year. It's time to look back on the new music that shocked us, made us cry, and, most importantly, left us begging for more.
One of three artists on this list to come back after a five-year hiatus, Miles Kane, roared back into the indie world's consciousness with this lush, bombastic LP full of melodramatic power pop ballads and lyrically vague guitar anthems. It's definitely the most showy of his three albums, shifting from a softer, more boyish sound to one resembling disco and glam rock, with Diana Ross and Marc Bolan as clear inspirations. Standout tracks include the pour-your-heart-out chant "Wrong Side of Life," the wordy, Faustian "Loaded," and the funky, danceable title track.
Iceage, a four-piece punk band from Copenhagen, has been making a splash in the indie rock world since 2009. They've proven to be a formidable post-punk act for the 2010s, as displayed on albums like You're Nothing and Plowing Into the Field of Love. They experimented heavily with their sound on 2018's Beyondless, a firecracker of an album filled with horns, strings, and, lyrically, existential crises. While maintaining their guitar-heavy sound, Iceage has introduced a unique baroque element on this new LP—which pairs well with the songs' stories of desolation and despair. The album's opener, "Hurrah," is a perfect example, as an urgent tale of inherent violence among humans, and, near the end of Beyondless, "Showtime" proves to be one of the album's best, as it chronicles a musical performance gone horribly wrong.
Mitski Miyawaki returned this year with the candid, gut-wrenching Be the Cowboy. Continuing the sweeping guitar-based sound of Puberty 2, her LP released in 2016, she fills her new album to the brim with brief, wordy tales of personal devastation and loneliness. Proving to be one of the most unique voices in indie in the past decade, Mitski has shifted and shaped herself over and and over again, as hinted at on the second verse of her simple but chaotic single, Nobody. Themes of frustration and heartbreak continue on the rest of Cowboy, especially the stellar songs "Lonesome Love" and "A Pearl."
Yet another indie rock act to come back from a five-year hiatus, MGMT started the year off right with Little Dark Age. Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser continue with their synth-infused sound, tackling themes of technology, mortality, and melancholy. This album has been said to be partly inspired by the new age of Trump, and this sentiment is especially expressed in the title track, a fantastic Numan-esque tale of confusion and revolution. There's a sense of anxiety that's laced throughout every song on the album, particularly on the paranoid "TSLAMP" and the bouncy "Me and Michael."
After returning from a seven-year hiatus with 2017's Humanz, Gorillaz came back again in 2018 with the synthesizer-heavy, surprisingly mellow The Now Now. Themes of isolation and reflection run through the whole album, with lead vocalist Damon Albarn's soft, emotional voice and thoughtful lyrics being the main focus of songs, not unlike 2005's Demon Days. It's a step back from the aforementioned Humanz, a collaboration-filled, hip-hop based album, and sounds closer to a solo album than ever before. This LP is equal parts synth pop and smaller, quieter studies of character, the former best displayed in "Hollywood" (featuring excellent verses by Jamie Principle and Snoop Dogg), the latter found in "Souk Eye," and a delightful mix of the two on album opener "Humility."
BROCKHAMPTON, the six-piece boyband from San Marcos, Texas, has been taking the music world by storm for the past few years. Their past three albums, the Saturation trilogy, redefined modern rap and hip hop by involving a massive performance and production team and consisting of reflective lyrics about race and sexuality. They continued this successful streak on iridescence, a string-infused album recorded at Abbey Road Studios, that's not only the beginning of a new trilogy for the band but also a memoir of the group's fame and notoriety accumulated from their past releases. No topic is left untouched on this new LP, and we're all the better for it. These themes of struggle and disillusionment especially shine through on the gut-wrenching "WEIGHT" and "SAN MARCOS."
Kali Uchis, one of the most promising pop stars of recent years, finally graced the world this year with her debut album Isolation. Having released a mixtape, an EP, and several singles, her work was often called genre-defying and innovative. She shows off her talent with wonderful grace on Isolation, integrating soul, R&B, and jazz on a smooth set of songs that feature collaborators such as Tyler, The Creator and Jorja Smith. The former has an impressive bit on fan-favorite "After The Storm," an uplifting tale of empowerment and empathy. Uchis also shows off lyrical genius on "Your Teeth in My Neck," an incriminating send-up of the music industry and the corporate machine.
The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr. has proven himself to be one of the most notable guitarists of the 2000s not only in the band but also in his wonderful solo career, showing himself as both a great singer and songwriter in addition to his instrumental abilities. His solo albums, such as Yours to Keep and Momentary Masters are thoughtful, personal pieces that show a softer side of indie rock. They were solid precedents to his best album, this year's Francis Trouble. Named after Hammond's brother, this album uses clever guitar riffs and frantic beats to accentuate blunt and sometimes whimsical lyrics. The LP still manages to be deeply personal but also relatable for the listener, especially on standout tracks "Tea for Two" and "Muted Beatings."
Will Toledo, the man behind the revolutionary indie rock outfit Car Seat Headrest, has made a career of writing complex, heart-wrenching albums filled with frenetic guitars and a grainy garage sound since his late teens. Headrest's newest installment, Twin Fantasy, is actually a re-recording, the original having been released in 2011. The latest version clocks in at one hour and eleven minutes, and it tells a story of loneliness, anxiety, and confusion that's laced with a silver lining, love. It's emotional and deeply personal, but also familiar to the listener, in that it's easy to imagine ourselves in his exact situations, especially on the album's intense opener, "My Boy (Twin Fantasy)" and the three-part goliath "Beach Life-In-Death."
Arctic Monkeys left the world with a bang in 2013 with their groundbreaking LP AM, a hard-driving, emotional piece of work filled with honest, tender lyrics wrapped in guitar solos and slick riffs. The boys returned this year with the sweeping, divisive Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, a wonderful and immersive tale of a faded celebrity opening a hotel and casino in the stars. The songs are split between analyses of the current social and political climate and softer, sobering tales of characters looking for refuge in the interstellar institution from the album's title. The percussion is restrained, the keys are fully utilized, and the backup vocals reach a completely new level, especially on the stunning "Golden Trunks" and "She Looks Like Fun."