The music industry has suffered from the splintering of the monoculture for years, but 2018 was especially slow in terms of hits from world-conquering pop stars. Nicki Minaj, Drake, and Cardi B all released albums, sure, but they served more as vessels for personality than artistry, and only Cardi was capable of releasing even one buzzy single. Even Kanye, previously undefeatable, was undone by his ignorant public persona, producing four albums in as many weeks and generating zero hits.
Sales might have been down without smashes from Beyoncé (The Carters, her project with Jay Z, had little impact), Taylor Swift, or Ed Sheeran, but their absence allowed younger, more diverse artists to catch our attention; many of the best albums of the year were made by twentysomething women, an interesting parallel to our culture’s blessed shift toward honoring the feminine, both in art and politics.
So, here’s our list of our favorite albums from 2018. The albums here defy genre and expectations, and few, if any of them, are concerned with traditional matters of love or money-making. These albums reject the status quo, find triumph in heartbreak, and speak from perspectives that are woefully underrepresented in the mainstream. And, most impressively, they do it while marrying musical styles once perceived as worlds apart. 2018 was a weird year for music. Let’s hope 2019 is, too.
Sophie Allison is barely old enough to drink, but she released one of the best indie rock albums of 2018. Her age is likely an advantage, though, giving her writing a mix of world-weary cynicism while still fresh-eyed about love. “Your Dog” finds her taking a stand against a domineering partner, sneering from the start, “I don’t wanna be your f*cking dog.” And while her anger there is palpable and impactful, the one-two concluding punch of “Scorpio Rising” and “Wildflowers” finds her ruminating about lost love and the loneliness of the aftermath with such tenderness and vivid imagery (“A vine stretched down Fifth Avenue/ It came in through my window/ Carry me home like you used to”) that you’d be forgiven for not caring at all about how old she is.