Each week of 2018, we’ve listened to as much new music as possible — not just because we love new music, but also to help our readers separate the best and brightest from the so-so. Each week, our post of the best songs to stream serves up the most enticing new music we’ve come across. In the process, we’ve slowly assembled a master playlist of our favorite albums of the year.
With the help of our editorial staff, who love all kinds of music, we’ve dialed up a living, breathing portrait of some of the most exciting sounds currently being made by both newcomers and long-established artists. Below are the best albums of 2018.
50. Jay Rock — Redemption
From Kendrick Lamar to SZA, the Top Dawg Entertainment label has brought us some of the biggest names in hip-hop over the past few years. But its the label’s original artist Jay Rock that helped build the foundation for its modern success. On his latest album, Redemption, we hear a West Coast take on Southern trap music, with hard-hitting and inspirational lyrics from Jay Rock that are interspersed with near-comedic levels of hubris. It’s a fun journey, this one, the kind of thing you should listen to before your next workout, or blast before you attempt something that’s just at the edge of your ability.
49. Spiritualized — And Nothing Hurt
And Nothing Hurt is among the most incredible home recordings in recent memory. A series of gorgeous wall-of-sound compositions crafted with tasteful, brick-by-brick precision by songwriter Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman), the album recalls classic records by Wilco, The Velvet Underground, and other classic songsmiths.
48. Earl Sweatshirt — Some Rap Songs
Fans of underground hip-hop from the likes of Madlib, J Dilla, and the Stones Throw label will find a welcome addition to their catalog in Earl Sweathshirt’s latest release, a hazy, low-fi album with more soul than “A sock with a hole,” as renowned underground rapper MF Doom would say. Fifteen short tracks showcase the rapper’s deepest thoughts (and on at least one occasion the voices of his actual parents), with jagged, sample-heavy beats that form one of the finest hip-hop albums of the year.
47. Sandy’s — Chime
San Francisco surf band Sandy’s Chime is a hidden gem of an album that we’ve found ourselves turning to when we need a change of musical scenery. Like a deep musical breath, soaring vocals and shimmering guitars transport you to the Northern California shore, where the band holed up in lead singer Alexi Glickman’s beachside cabin to live, eat, and make this spectacularly vibey album.
46. Sam Evian — You, Forever
If You, Forever and its like-minded predecessor are any indication, Sam Owens has no qualms about dishing out the kind of easygoing indie-pop that helped build labels such as Sub Pop. His solo efforts, in comparison to his work as the singer-guitarist for Brooklyn’s Celestial Shore, have always been languorous without ever sounding stagnant, buoyant without feeling bouncy. The same thing applies to Forever. It’s a record that rocks, albeit subtly, and explores many a vulnerability with brushed percussion and a host of silvery, ‘60s-inspired guitar work. There’s even a sax solo or two thrown in for good measure, as if the swirls of psychedelia and Owen’s wistful crooning weren’t enough to carry it.
45. Parquet Courts — Wide Awake
This Danger Mouse-produced rock record offers a rollicking listening experience that recalls the classic, no-holds-barred releases of the 1970s and ’80s. With apathetic speech-song vocals and punchy beats, the production is clean but not shiny, with the legendary producer bringing his gritty experience working with bands like the Black Keys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the forefront, and the band delivering its most vibrant songs to date.
44. Jeff Tweedy — WARM
It seems odd that, more than 30 years into a career littered with blue-ribbon albums and accolades, Jeff Tweedy only has one proper solo album to his name. However, WARM, the collection in question, is just as moving and insightful as anything the Wilco frontman has put forth before. At the same time, it’s easily his most personal and direct recording to date, an 11-part series on fatherhood, addiction, death, and the surefire inevitabilities we all will face before the end. Tweedy tackles these topics with aplomb, resulting in a breezy, threadbare set of country-leaning musings that put his own insecurities—and those of most of us—on blast. Apparently, rehashing your anxieties doesn’t have to ruin you.
43. Anderson .Paak — Oxnard
Lush beats and fully fleshed-out arrangements lay a mesmerizing musical foundation for California rapper/vocalist/instrumentalist Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard, his major label debut on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. The same driving beats and joyful speech-song vocals that fans loved on 2016’s Malibu are back in full force, but the rhythms are a bit slower and funkier on the follow-up, making this a more of a sunset record, where Malibu seemed purpose-written to wake up to.
42. Father John Misty — God’s Favorite Customer
Father John Misty is self-absorbed, cynical, and one hell of a songwriter. With God’s Favorite Customer, however, Josh Tillman (Misty’s given name) has added something unexpected to his repertoire: Empathy. His fourth LP as Father John is as heartbreaking as it is honed, rooted in naked vulnerability and folkier, Harry Nilsson-esque arrangements built on a bed of acoustic guitar, shattered piano, and wry lyricism. Whether it’s a blacked-out exchange with the hotel concierge or an episode in which he examines his wife’s renewed longing for normalcy, the album’s many narratives present Father John at his most exposed.
41. Ambrose Akinmusire — Origami Harvest
Musical activism remains at the core of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s latest work, which ties together themes from the Black Lives Matter movement, and various other modern protests in spoken word segments, classical interludes, and beat breaks. Origami Harvest folds together numerous art forms, musical outlooks, and dispositions, offering one of the most forward-thinking works of sheer art music we heard in 2018.