The Top Five Albums of 2018: Neeharika’s List

31 Dec

In more ways than one, 2018 has been an interesting time to be alive. One thing to be thankful for, though: there’s been some great music this year. There have been knock-out debuts, surprising self-one-ups from established artists, and some fantastic soundtrack albums. Suffice it to say, it was a tough exercise to whittle down this year’s music to the top five albums below. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

5. Sweetener – Ariana Grande

With three well-received albums under her belt, Ariana Grande is not a new name in pop music. On her fourth album Sweetener, she has really elevated her craft. With heartfelt, self-written lyrics and a greater focus on her glossy vocals, Sweetener is Ariana’s best album so far. It’s also the best pop album of the year, essentially because it was able to capture zeitgeist genres – trap, hip-hop, R&B – and adapt them into veritable pop songs.

Take, for example, the ubiquitous “God is a woman”. At its core, with deliberate and hypnotic beats, it’s a trap song; but Ariana flips it around to a surprisingly effective message of female empowerment. “breathin’” could pass for a mid-tempo dance song; listen closely, though, and it’s a well-penned mantra for positive mental health. On “no tears left to cry”, synth beats and perky vocals belie a tragic backstory: the track is her direct response to the 2017 Manchester bombing at her concert that killed tens and injured hundreds.

All things considered, it’s no wonder that Sweetener created a whole legion of new Ariana fans. Her next album thank u, next is reportedly already in the works – we can’t wait!

Best songs: “God is a woman”, “breathin’”, “no tears left to cry”

4. Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble

As we talked about in our full-length review, Francis Trouble has an intriguing backstory. Albert Hammond Jr. (guitarist for the Strokes) had a twin called Francis who died in the womb; Albert apparently created this project as an artistic rendition of the ill-fated Francis’ life. The result is a rambunctious, inspired and fun album that sparkles with the spirit of a man who’s happy to be alive – even if it’s only on this record.

Long-time Strokes fans should be able to quickly read the subtext here. Hammond was a high-functioning drug addict throughout the Strokes’ heyday in the early aughts before finally sobering up a couple of years ago. On Francis Trouble, the opportunity to explore Francis’ would-be life seems to have given Albert a fresh appreciation for his own new lease on life.

If you’ve got 36 minutes to spare in your day, we suggest you go ahead and listen to the entirety of this gem of an album. If not – start off with “Set to Attack” and we’re sure you’d want to hear more.

Read our full review here.

Best songs: “Set to Attack”, “Muted Beatings”, “Tea for Two”

3. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

Dirty Computer, the third full-length album from Janelle Monae, is her most accessible album so far. While her debut (The ArchAndroid) and sophomore album (Electric Lady) featured heady themes of a cyborg-populated dystopia, Monae takes it down a notch here with more direct storytelling. The result is a great pop-funk album that does justice to Monae’s lovely voice.

But even on the most accessible tracks, Monae’s incredible creativity shines through. “Make Me Feel” (President Obama pick for 2018!) is a sexy funk hit with a catchy, sing-along chorus that would make Prince proud. “I Like That” is a lovely R&B hit that honestly should receive far more coverage than anything Beyonce releases. And “Pynk”, featuring the electronic artist Grimes, may seem saccharine on the surface, but it’s a tongue-in-cheek, never-before-seen take on femininity.

Dirty Computer is funky, spunky and just plain enjoyable. Maybe one of these days, Janelle Monae will finally get the adulation she has always deserved.

Read our full review here.

Best tracks: “Pynk”, “Make Me Feel”, “I Like That”  

2. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Cardi B is everywhere this year, from guest spots on high profile songs to her own record-breaking list of chart toppers. We know this for sure: the Bronx native is not a one-time wonder.

Cardi is a shape-shifter – from stripper to social media star to reality TV hit to rapper – and it’s her ability to draw a common line across these phases that makes Invasion of Privacy an incredible album. Invasion overflows with swagger, great beats and surprising honesty; it’s almost hard to believe that it’s a debut album.

Commercial hits like “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It” (another Obama pick) have cemented her status as the new reigning queen of popular music, but it’s the truth-spitting lyrics on “Get Up 10” and “Be Careful” that stay with you for much longer.

Read our full review here.

Best tracks: “Bodak Yellow”, “I Like It”, “Get Up 10”

1. The Voidz – Virtue

If you’ve made it this far and you’re surprised that we chose this relatively unknown album as our top pick, let us explain.

Virtue is old-school. It’s the kind of album that lures you in with an affable track – maybe “Leave It In My Dreams” – and fifteen listens later, you have a personal relationship with every single song on there. It’s rich, diverse, creative and endlessly gratifying in a way that very few modern-day albums are.

The Voidz, fronted by the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, are as eclectic as they come, so it’s no wonder that Virtue is an astounding mishmash of genres, styles and influences. There’s plenty of Strokes on here, from the friendly pop of “Wink” to the subtly mysterious “AlieNNatioN”. There’s some understated moments – like the sweet Mac DeMarco-esque “Lazy Boy” or the dreamy jazz on “Pink Ocean”. But perhaps nothing defines Virtue better than the bonkers Middle Eastern-synth-dance-pop vibes on “QYURRYUS”. (If you’ve never heard those words hyphenated together, it’s because there is no other music like this song and we’re trying our best to describe it in text.)

Just trust us on this. Virtue is one of those albums that gets you to view music itself in an entirely different light. Thank us later!

Read our full review here.

Best songs: “Leave It in My Dreams”, “QYURRYUS”, “All Wordz Are Made Up”

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