What, you thought we would leave you alone this Christmas? Please.
Yesterday I told you about my favorite songs of 2018. Today it's time for the albums. These may not be the most commercial releases of the year. Some are downright weird. But I hope you take the time to sample some of these records. You may find something you really enjoy.
Dedekind Cut – Tahoe
You’re traveling on a lonely highway. The plains roll off in every direction, tall grasses swaying in the wind, gray clouds above, no sunlight peeking through. It’s a midday twilight. You wait for rain but it doesn’t come. You stop to see an antelope bound off away from the road, over a low fence of barbed wire. That’s the kind of vision this record makes me think of.
SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES
This is nothing less than the future of pop music, today. The production is the peak of the PC Music movement Sophie’s been associated with since her debut, incorporating internet music tropes like super-slowed tracks and EDM drops and mixing, distorting, and bending them into a brilliant new world of electronic bliss. Then there’s the lyrics, which investigate love, commerce, and identity – especially important for this recently-out transgender producer – all through the distorted lens of being online. There’s nothing else like it, truly.
JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
Daaaaaaaaaaaaaamn, Peggy! If there’s anything JPEGMAFIA proves with this, his breakthrough project, it’s that he simply does not give a fuck about anything. Trump, internet Nazis, colorism, NeoGAF, Morissey – all are flamed into dust by the Baltimore rapper’s scornful lyrics, delivered over top-notch, experimental, ambitious production. He’ll warp a sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard over heavy, tribal drums on one track and diss yuppies and gentrifiers on the next. He hates you. You love him. He knows it. He doesn’t care. Don’t we love it?
Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Honestly, it doesn’t sound like Madvillainy. The return of Earl Sweatshirt was long anticipated, and when he finally dropped this enigmatic collection of songs, so indefinable and unconventional but so unquestionably good, comparisons to DOOM were the easiest way out. I can’t even really describe what this album is like, but I think it’s optimistic. If his last album was I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, this is the going-outside, the sunrise at the end of a long, dark night. It’s about, as Earl says on “The Mint,” letting blood, getting out the confused emotions within him. That’s the purest art there is, in my opinion.
Tim Hecker – Konoyo
Ambient composer Tim Hecker is an expert at creating immersive, sometimes startling worlds of sound, but not since his 2013 record Virgins, inspired by the U.S. Army’s abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, has produced something so stunning. On Konoyo, he uses the palette of gagaku, an ancient form of Japanese classical music, to summon sounds that are absolutely otherworldly. When I listen to tracks like “A sodium codec haze” and hear the crescendoing flutes and plodding drums, I imagine I’m floating on a cloud or in a boat through a world rendered in grayscale. It’s a vision so powerful and real, it’s scary.
Mid-Air Thief – Crumbling
One of the biggest surprises of the year was this beguiling album from South Korea, an autumnal, electronic indie-folk record that sounds like a mix between Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House and The District Sleeps Alone Tonight by The Postal Service. I can’t understand the words, but that doesn’t really matter to me. This record is beautiful, soothing, and endlessly fascinating. I could listen to it again and again.
Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love
After releasing records and songs that skeered more towards ambient in years past, no one anticipated the left turn that Sean Bowie, a.k.a. Yves Tumor, made with Safe in the Hands of Love. But what a turn: Combining that dreadful, locusts-swarming harsh noise with songs that veered toward club music (“Honesty”) ‘90s art-rock (“Licking an Orchid”), and a visual style that can best be described as “Bizarro Ziggy Stardust,” (his last name is Bowie, after all), the producer put together one of the bravest projects of the year.
Playboi Carti – Die Lit
“Bought that crib for my mama off that mumblin’ shit.” Cardi sums it all up on “R.I.P.,” and it’s not even one of the stronger tracks on this fully-loaded debut album. “Shoota” with Lil Uzi Vert makes you feel like a superhero. “Fell In Luv” sounds like just that, falling. The Atlanta rapper may be indebted to his producers – Pi’erre Bourne principal among them – but Die Lit wouldn’t be the same without the unique texture his voice provides, ad-libs and all. It may not be sophisticated, but that doesn’t matter when an album sounds as gorgeous as this one.
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Jacques Greene – Fever Focus
Technically this is a double-pack of EPs, but this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Following up last year’s LP Feel Infinite, Canadian house producer Jacques Greene has delivered perhaps his finest effort to date, a group of stunning tracks that wander from soulful vocals and mournful synth chords on “Someone Else” to gamelan-chimes and rave breakbeats on “Nordschleife.”
Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts
Kanye, Kanye, Kanye….I’m as sick of talking about him as you are, but however you feel about his actions in 2018, you can’t deny that this, his collaborative project with Kid Cudi, is incredible. From the beautiful, ethereal Takashi Murakami artwork – without a doubt one of the best album covers of the year – to the experimental, ghostly production on the title track, this all-too-short record, the undeniable peak of Kanye’s “Surgical Summer,” is masterful, complex, and unforgettable. Try and tell me you don’t feel anything when Cudi moans on “Reborn.” You can’t.