The year 2018 saw a mix of several musicians hitting the mainstream with strong albums, and established acts returning with music that showed why they are popular. The following list includes LPs that may be well known or fairly obscure, but they represent some of the unique and great music that came out last year.
*Note, some albums were left off this list because of explicit content that was deemed not appropriate for students.
The sophomore album from New Zealand garage rockers The Beths delivers catchy and upbeat tunes about the risks and rewards of finding love and happiness. Lead singer Elizabeth Strokes sweet voice floats over the loud guitars and driving drums of each track, making them sound less punk and more like a harder sounding version of the Beach Boys. You can hear the influence of contemporary Courtney Barnett in the thick guitar leads of “Future Me Hates Me”, but unlike Barnett The Beths deliver more straightforward, and often simpler, rock music that may appeal to a wider audience. For example, the lead single “Happy Unhappy” has more hooks than most American pop songs, leaving you humming it for days afterwards. Their sound has been heard before, but it’s been awhile since a band has delivered an album chocked full of songs as catchy as this one.
Standout Track: Happy Unhappy
The quirky band born on the internet is fronted by soon to be indie icon Orono Noguchi, who at 18 years is far younger than her 20-30 year old bandmates. Her addition to the band in 2017 brought them from a group of friends experimenting with music to pioneers of a unique branch of pop. Superorganism’s unique samples and beats may sound somewhat like a cartoon, but they create the perfect sonic scape for Noguchi’s deadpan vocals and lyrics that reflect her status as a voice for the Generation Z kids who don’t remember a pre 9/11 or Recession World, and devote most of their time to staring at screens. The band’s assurance that “everybody wants to be famous” and that we’re all just prawns in a sea of modernism ring true for anyone who’s seen the effects of social media and the internet on society.
Standout Track: The Prawn Song
After two albums of experimentation the pop duo who declared they were trying to “sell out as fast as possible” have finally returned with a collection of songs just as catchy the singles off their debut LP Oracular Spectacular. From the dark synths and goth imagery of the album’s title track “Little Dark Age”, to the sugary pop feel of “Me and Michael” the entire album unashamedly pays tribute to the glam of the 1980s. Lyrics like “When you’re small, you’re not very big at all” seem ridiculous at times, before you remember that MGMT is from the same vein of the band They Might Be Giants; satirical in the most musical way possible. Hopefully it won’t be long before they return to poke fun at themselves and the recording industry with another retro sounding album.
Stand Out Track: Little Dark Age
This rap trio based in Edinburgh, Scotland is composed of Nigerian immigrants Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole, and Scottish native Graham Hastings and combines catchy hooks with traditional and Afro-pop rhythms that make many of their songs sound more akin to African tribal music or even the Talking Heads than most modern rap. The trio trade hooks and aggressively delivered lines that pierce through chants and funky bass and keyboards that certainly make it one of the most danceable hip hop album of 2018. The distinct accents of Massaquoi, Bankole, and Hastings are just part of what set their delivery apart, their words flowing in unusual and emotive ways on tracks like “Toy” and “Border Girl”, but sounding more like a standard R&B song on “In My View”. They offer something new to hip hop in a year where several of the genre’s young and promising artists have died.
Standout Track: Holy Ghost
This 19 year old with a guitar and a taste for Sonic Youth hit the indie scene in 2016 with her EP Habit and was hailed as a rock prodigy. She exchanged her real name Lindsey Jordan, for her project name Snail Mail early on in her career. Her first full length album Lush has expanded her sound, but her music could still be performed at CBGB in the 1970s. Lines as simple as the refrain Rockers like “Pristine” and the fuzzy “Heat Wave” are broken up by softer ballads like “Let’s Find an Out”. Lines as simple as the refrain from “Pristine”, “I know myself/and I’ll never love anyone else” has a greater impact when delivered with her slightly dejected vocals, making the listener realize that she is singing earnestly and honestly.
Standout Track: Pristine
This princess of pop’s album was almost overshadowed by her tragic personal struggles; from still dealing with the aftermath of the bombing of one of her concerts to the death of beloved ex Mac Miller and the breakup of her engagement to Pete Davidson, Grande has had a trying past couple years. If she had not released a glorious new album she may have been lost to the tabloids and entertainment news, but her new music finds her as strong as ever. Grande’s album draws inspiration from older R&B while teetering on the edge of the newest sonic wave that has emerged in the past few years. The gospel chords of the uplifting “No Tears Left to Cry” sounds like some of her older work, but “God is a Woman” and “Sweetener” draw influence from contemporary hip hop while maintaining her impressive vocals that make her stand out among the sea of female pop singers.
Standout Track: No Tears Left to Cry
Some music fans believe that country has been stuck in cliques and unoriginality since the late 1990s, but Kacey Musgraves’ fourth album embraces the best parts of the genre while mixing in pop and folk to create a blend of refreshing music that makes her sound more akin to a modern version of Emmylou Harris than a standard country vocalist Great examples of this blend are the disco beats of “High Horse” and the open sounding “Space Cowboy”, which remain rooted in country while experimenting with more mainstream pop sounds. Musgraves’ distinctly country voice navigates through lyrics dealing with growing up in small town American and those who you love and lose in the process. Though some of her themes are standard to the genre her sound is ambiguous, and can be enjoyed by country fans or people who just love good, catchy music.
Standout Track: Slow Burn