On Spotify, iTunes, MP3s, CDs, or even vinyl — make sure you get a hold of these albums. KASHI SYAL/THE VARSITY

2018 saw a fairly radical remodeling of the music industry. Promising talents solidified their names while countless established artists offered career-lows. This was a year defined by innovative ambient music, hypnotic art pop, and experimentations in hip hop album structures. Ultimately, 2018 provided representation to important voices, offering complex and profound commentaries on our ever-changing world.


Essential tracks: “Ponyboy” / “Faceshopping” / “Pretending”

24. TA13OO by Denzel Curry

Essential tracks: “SIRENS|Z1RENZ (feat. J.I.D)” / “VENGEANCE|VENGEANCE (feat. JPEGMAFIA & ZillaKami)”

23. Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington

Essential tracks: “Fists of Fury” / “Can You Hear Him” / “Street Fighter Mas”

22. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven

Essential tracks: “You Without End” / “Night People”

21. Persona by Rival Consoles

Essential tracks: “Unfolding” / “Dreamer’s Wake”

20. 2012 – 2017 by Against All Logic

Essential tracks: “Some Kind of Game” / “Now U Got Me Hooked”

19. Sweetener by Ariana Grande

Essential tracks: “R.E.M.” / “Successful” / “breathin”

18. Room 25 by Noname

Essential tracks:Self” / “Blaxploitation” / “Don’t Forget About Me”

17. Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

Essential tracks: “Beach Life-In-Death” / “Sober to Death”

16. Power by Lotic

Essential tracks: “Hunted” / “Power” / “Solace”

15. Isolation by Kali Uchis

Like some sort of pop goddess, Kali Uchis burst into headlines this year with her show-stopping studio debut Isolation. Alternating between love songs and breakup songs, Uchis draws inspiration from jazz legends like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice is the centrepiece, but the elegant funk sounds are equally absorbing. Uchis sings of past conflicts and joys with sentimentality, blending memories of pleasure and pain. Isolation is an R&B/soul extravaganza rarely paralleled today. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Miami (feat. BIA)” / “Your Teeth in My Neck” / “Dead to Me”

14. All Melody by Nils Frahm

In All Melody, Nils Frahm immerses the listener in a mesmerizing mosaic of piano, beats, synthesizers, marimba, and various woodwinds. Frahm rarely deviates from a warm consonance that permeates the entire album. Within this framework, he is able to capture both surreal feels and complex interplays of rhythm and notes. While most of the tracks are marked by insistent, percussive arpeggios that contribute a sense of unwavering energy, Frahm also excels at pulling back into more introspective territory. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Sunson” / “My Friend the Forest” / “All Melody”

13. Historian by Lucy Dacus

It all begins with “Night Shift.” It’s the kind of indie rock showstopper that grips you with its first words and hurls you through the sky as the climax hits. Though the rest of the album never reclaims this peak, it offers a tender exploration of relationships and time. Lucy Dacus’ observant and witty songwriting is exceeded only by the sincerity of her voice. Between Historian and her work in boygenius (EP), Dacus has established herself as a vital presence in the indie world. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Night Shift” / “Timefighter” / “Nonbeliever”


Kanye West’s contributions to the world this year have been, at best, cringy and, at worst, intensely distressing. The sole exception to this standard is KIDS SEE GHOSTS: a 24-minute collaborative project with Kid Cudi. It serves as a reminder to the musical ingenuity that spawned his success. In the album opener “Feel the Love (feat. Pusha.T),” Kanye mimics a machine gun, his voice ricocheting across the song. Cudi is also in top form, with his emotional and haunting vocals contrasting Kanye’s hyperactive energy. KIDS SEE GHOSTS shows two of hiphop’s most gifted innovators embarking on a journey for inner peace. The result is unforgettable. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Feel The Love (feat. Pusha T)” / “4th Dimension (feat. Louis Prima)” / “Cudi Montage”

11. Lush by Snail Mail

Though only 18 years old at the time of Lush’s release, Snail Mail demonstrates the songwriting abilities of an experienced industry pro. On Lush, she effectively carries heart-wrenching and beautifully crafted melodies with her crystal clear voice. “Heat Wave” showcases the delightfully charming inflections in her voice while highlights like “Golden Dream” reveal Snail Mail’s affinity for building to triumphant, soaring endings tinged with melancholy. Snail Mail has solidly established herself as an artist to watch in the years to come. (KS)

Essential tracks:Pristine” / “Heat Wave” / “Stick”

10. Now Only by Mount Eerie

With his signature bleakness, Mount Eerie, also known as Phil Elverum, follows up last year’s A Crow Looked At Me with another album driven by fearless songwriting. Now Only broadens his thematic investigation, offering a sweeping probe into the nature of death. Naturally, he finds no answers. In “Distortion,” Elverum’s poetic stream of consciousness connect Jack Kerouac, a sexual encounter from his 20s, and his wife’s death into a grand tapestry. Drenched in morbidity and existential dread, Now Only is not an easy listen, but undeniably an essential one. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Tintin in Tibet” / “Distortion”

9. Konoyo by Tim Hecker

Even as a veteran ambient artist, Tim Hecker continues to find new ways to reinvent his sound. His ninth studio album release, Konoyo sets its gaze on the otherworldly. Konoyo is made up of synth-based soundscapes, marked by seering dissonance, and interspersed with slow-developing melodies that feel disconcerting yet bold. Inspired by his work with a gagaku ensemble in Tokyo, the album blends the artificial with the acoustic. In Konoyo, Hecker reaffirms his place as one of the most innovative electronic artists of the moment. (KS)

Essential tracks:This Life” / “Is a Rose Petal of the Dying Crimson Light”

8. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys have evolved from greasy Sheffield teens shredding gritty garage rock to international celebrities, producing suave lounge pop. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the successor to the mostly vapid AM, shows frontman Alex Turner flexing unexpectedly toned songwriting muscles. Set on a luxury hotel built on the moon’s surface, their latest album blends science fiction tropes with cultural critiques. In a year where indie rock was plagued by the insufferable pretensions of The 1975 and Father John Misty, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was a delightful alternative. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Star Treatment” / “Four Out of Five” / “Batphone”

7. 7 by Beach House

A new album by Beach House, dream pop’s finest sorcerers, is a musical milestone in any year. The duo offers some of their bravest work yet with 7, a spellbinding collection of psychedelic homeruns. Known for synth and guitar arrangements that sound plucked from alien planets, their latest album demonstrates a subtle shift in their signature sound. Tracks like “Lemon Glow” boom with pounding drum beats as Victoria Legrand’s magnetic vocals dominate the listeners’ ears. 7 superbly captures the catharsis of dream pop; “Last Ride” plays out like a passionate, tear-stained farewell. Few musicians can naturally cast magic with the ease of Beach House. 7 is another unbreakable incantation. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Drunk In LA” / “Black Car” / “Last Ride”

6. Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet

With Your Queen is a Reptile, Sons of Kemet reject the British monarchy and, instead, proclaim nine black female leaders as the true monarchs. Led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, the jazz album is also inspired by sources across the African diaspora. The brass instruments weave in and out of urgent polyrhythmic beats, which imbue the album with persistent energy. Your Queen Is a Reptile calls for resistance and a reclamation of power in the UK, proving jazz is not a genre of the past, but of the future. (KS)
Essential tracks: “My Queen is Mamie Phipps Clark” / “My Queen is Harriet Tubman” / “My Queen is Doreen Lawrence”

5. Dead Magic by Anna von Hausswolff

On Dead Magic, Anna von Hausswolff invites listeners into a simultaneously beautiful and disturbing world. Her voice shows versatility, with its Kate Bush-esque tone. Though von Hausswolff has a gorgeous voice, she isn’t afraid to sound hideous, crying out in desperation. Von Hausswolff shows incredible depth, building up to almost apocalyptic moments only to draw back to sparser, minimalistic tracks. She adeptly straddles genres to create a sound that is uniquely hers. (KS)

Essential tracks: “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall” / The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”

4. In a Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls

In a Poem Unlimited, the latest release of U.S. Girls, the solo project by Meghan Remy, presents a distinctly female perspective on the current political climate. Remy sounds angry and defiant as she rejects the male domination pervasive in our society. Her focus turns both toward male-led violence in the home — singing about domestic violence in “Incidental Boogie” — or abroad, criticizing Obama for his expansion of the drone strike program in “M.A.H.” Drawing influences from funk, pop, psychedelic rock, and jazz, the album makes a statement both politically and musically as Remy’s distinct voice blends seamlessly into the fabric of distorted guitars and varied percussion. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Rosebud” / “M.A.H.” / “Rage of Plastics”

3. CARE FOR ME by Saba

Saba’s CARE FOR ME centres around the murder of Walter, his cousin, friend, and mentor. The album cover depicts Saba slumped forward, despondent and vulnerable; this is, more or less, the tone of the album. Irate and overcome by senseless violence, Saba navigates the terrain of his 24-year memory. With songwriting akin to Kendrick Lamar, Saba fashions himself as an Earl Sweatshirt-esque wordsmith, cleverly rhyming around morbid themes. CARE FOR ME is both a beautiful eulogy and a sincere celebration of life. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “LIFE” / “LOGOUT” / “PROM / KING”

2. Be the Cowboy by Mitski

Be the Cowboy is a work that defies expectations. Constantly oscillating between desperation and defiance, Mitski delivers an impeccably crafted indie rock album. Comprised of 14 short tracks evocative of fleeting moments, Be the Cowboy is an album about misleading appearances. On the surface, it offers catchy, seemingly impersonal vignettes cloaked in lightly distorted guitars and bouncy synthesizer riffs. Underneath, the work is exploding with emotion. For women — and especially racialized women — Mitski’s lyrics resonate in a deeply personal way. She finds power in singing out loud her insecurities and unbearable isolation. In this vulnerable yet dauntless work, Mitski lets listeners know that you can thrive in taking up the space you deserve in this world. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Geyser” / “Nobody” / “A Pearl”

1. I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma

I’m All Ears is an all-consuming art pop spectacle brought to you by two teenage girls from Norwich. With production from SOPHIE, David Wench, and Faris Badwon, I’m All Ears shakes with psychedelic euphoria. The album is a kaleidoscopic fusion of textures — all easily intoxicating. Early tracks like “Hot Pink” explode with experimental subversions of pop conventions. Later songs, like “Cool & Collected” or “Donnie Darko,” develop over the course of ambitious, quasi-epic structures. Innovation collides with technical prowess in a work that flirts with both minimalism and maximalism. This album is everything. Grand and concise. Danceable and heartbreaking. Yet despite its many variations and self-reinventions, there remains a love for music. Its undiluted and uncompromising passion makes I’m All Ears the album we needed for the year. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Hot Pink” / “Falling Into Me” / “I Will Be Waiting” / “Donnie Darko”

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