buzz’s top 20 best albums of 2018

By Elani Kaufman

20. Kamasi Washington – “Heaven and Earth”

Kamasi Washington has, over his tenure of working on numerous jazz-influenced pop projects, including albums by Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Run the Jewels, amassed an arsenal of styles, building on those he’d already swerve and flaunt. Having implemented more elements from those, “Heaven and Earth” is more accessible than his last album that gained prominence, “The Epic.” Still, both albums are obtuse beasts of lengths greater than 2 hours a piece, not as inviting listens as pop or rock records usually are, yet, “Heaven and Earth” seems to do more to lower the barriers than “The Epic,” intentionally or not. Thus this one is a fantastic place for a listener to introduce himself to some of the more eccentric and masterful jazz records created over the past century, for this likely cements itself as one of them. It is full of some truly delightful solos, taking riffs, motifs, ideas, and transcending them into incredible frenzies. A truly delightful record, and one that deserves far more attention than it gets. And in that, I mean not attention in terms of publicity, which is merely the means, but it deserves more listeners, which is the end.

– Mohul Varma

19. Robyn – “Honey”

On this record, Swedish dance-pop musician Robyn delivers another well-crafted record, full of the strengths of that genre, amounting to an exemplary genre album. This isn’t the first of her exploits in the genre – her mastery over it is deployed in many of her records, with the song “Dancing on My Own” having been her peak thus far. Here, once again, the bass pulsates deeply and pleasantly, and Robyn embodies, in her singing, a person trying to enter a trance-like state of dancing, a state that she tries to take the audience to. The melodies are catchy, and the songs well structured, climaxing with consistent drum machine beats and the synth waves, and most importantly, with the climaxes pivoted over the key points of Robyn’s often above average lyrics. Robyn fills the atmosphere with odd echoes and harmonic and melodic fills, emulating something of a jungle. Conclusively a solid album for fans of the genre, and worth a listen for those wishing to study it.

– Mohul Varma

18. The Carters – “Everything Is Love”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z channeled their talent as a music power couple into their first collaborative album, “Everything Is Love,” which was released this past June. Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or “The Carters” as the duo goes by on this album, have created a collaborative piece that is a great fusion of both of their voices and styles. This album also received a few nominations at this year’s Grammy Awards and was generally positively received by the couple’s listenership. The first thing you need to know about this album is: of course it’s going to be good, Queen Bey (as some of us affectionately like to call her) is on it.

The album is nine songs long, with each track ranging from 3-5 minutes. This hip-hop album also has quality variety, it has a solid mix of upbeat and slow tempo songs. Which makes it great to listen to for whatever mood you happen to be in. However, although all of the songs that comprise the album are well done, one song overshadows the rest: “APESHIT.” This song on the album is effortlessly cool. It’s got a great beat, Jay-Z’s flow is unmatchable as he raps, and Beyoncé evens him out with her powerful vocals. The music video for this song is also high-quality- it was one of the couple’s Grammy nominations for this album. Picture this: Beyoncé and Jay-Z looking, complete bosses, while they are posing around a museum. That about sums up the music video.

In general, this album is high quality and if you’re looking for a great hip-hop album, I suggest you give this one a listen.

– Taylor Cygan

17. boygenius – “boygenius”

boygenius, the supergroup of indie queens Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker, manages to combine the talents of its three members while never feeling overpowering, allowing each of them to shine both alone and in harmony.

Individually, each singer broaches the same things in their works, but all fall into different genres. With “boygenius,” these similarities build to create something wholly new, feeling both in and out of place in each of their respective discographies. Its a shame that “boygenius” is so short – recorded over four days, the (technically an) EP is only 6 tracks. I hope that the three powerhouses revisit boygenius to create a full-length work, because leaving boygenius as only a side project will always leave the question of what could have been open. But in the meantime, “boygenius” serves as a nice introduction to three talented artists who easily top lists on their own – together, they form something unreal.

– Elani Kaufman

16. Cardi B – “Invasion of Privacy”

Cardi B has definitely made waves this year, quickly rising to the top of the charts and the spotlight. Her album “Invasion of Privacy,” was riddled with hits, hosting her most notable song “Bodak Yellow.” Cards B’s album was catchy, different then what’s currently in the music scene, and offered something different with each song. She has unbelievable flow when she raps and brings a unique flair to all of her music. Furthermore, her album had some big names that collaborated with her, like the Migos, Chance the Rapper, Sza, 21 Savage, the list goes on. How could you not love an album that has these artists along with the iconic Cardi B? Although her album was all around great, some of my other favorite songs would be, “Drip,” “I Like It,” and “Bartier Cardi.”

Not to mention, Cardi B is also hilarious. If you haven’t looked up one of her interviews already, you are missing out. Her personality paired with her talent makes her easy to like and listen to. Personally, I can’t wait to see what other music she comes out with in the future, after she set the tone with “Invasion of Privacy.”

– Taylor Cygan

15. Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour”

Kacey Musgraves has been killing it recently, from touring with Harry Styles to receiving four well-deserved Grammy nominations, including album of the year. So, it’s no surprise that Musgraves’ album, “Golden Hour,” is on our top 20 albums list. What is a surprise, however, is that people like me, who do not like country, really enjoyed this album.

Musgraves takes country in an entirely different direction, adding her own spin on a genre people know so well. She weaves country into pop, making it easier to for non-country fans to listen to, while still incorporating her country background into the album.

My favorites from the album include “Wonder Woman,” “Butterflies,” and “High Horse” that all have a similar chilled out vibe yet include more upbeat elements and catchy melodies. If you’re looking for something a little more slowed down, listen to “Rainbow,” an uplifting song that revolves around the sound of a piano.

It’s clear that Musgraves knows what she’s doing. She has successfully avoided the mainstream country sound that often turns people off to country music (like me). Instead, she has found a way to stay true to her country background, while also adding pop elements that sound more like what most people want to listen to.

– Carolina Garibay

14. Kali Uchis – “Isolation”

Kali Uchis’s “Isolation” was one this year’s sleeper hits, pulling from multiple genres to create one of this year’s best pop albums. Blending reggaeton, funk, doo-wop, bedroom pop and R&B, Uchis paints the picture of the dreamer who she aspires to be, while also possessing a swagger that says “don’t mess with me.” She creates a sense of intimacy on “Isolation,” causing the album’s title to have a more overt meaning.

“Isolation” is consistently great throughout its fifteen tracks, a rare feat for an album in any genre. The album evokes a sense of futurism, while also seeming vintage at times, crafting a unique standout debut that will make Uchis one to watch.

“Isolation” is ambitious, proving Uchis’ evolution on the way to her debut album while still leaving room for more growth.

– Elani Kaufman

13. Travis Scott – “Astroworld”

If you haven’t yet listened to Travis Scott’s “Astroworld,” you are definitely missing out. “Astroworld,” Travis Scott’s third solo album, was initially announced two years ago. This album was extremely hyped, but it most definitely did not disappoint.

“Astroworld” is easily Travis Scott’s most mature album yet. Named after an abandoned Houston amusement park, the project embodies the idea of a twisting, looping, sharply turning rollercoaster ride. He creates this effect by making each track unique and employing a plethora of perfectly-utilized instruments, samples, and guests. Travis Scott’s collaborations make the album, as he curates every piece masterfully with help from fellow artists.
Travis Scott features big names such as Drake, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Quavo, and many others. He samples Beastie Boys’ drumline from “The New Style” on his track “Carousel,” Notorious B.I.G’s “Gimme the Loot” on “Sicko Mode,” and a radio interview with DJ Screw on “R.I.P. Screw,” to name a few. Pharell has production credits on “skeletons,” and even John Mayer has writing credits on “Astrothunder.”

In perhaps the best collaboration of the year, Travis Scott brings together Kid Cudi, Stevie Wonder, James Blake, and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey in “Stop Trying To Be God.” The mix of harmonica, humming, and mellow vocals bring this atmospheric piece to life.

The album truly showcases Travis Scott’s artistic vision, and his ability to bring numerous different elements together beautifully. His variety of resources are used well, without a guest or sample sounding out of place. The result is a rollercoaster of a musical journey, with each piece bringing something new and exciting to the project.

– Shruthi Mekala

12. Saba – “Care for Me”

Chicago rapper Saba, the founder of the rap group PIVOT Gang, released his sophomore album “Care for Me,” earlier this year following the success of his 2016 album, “The Bucket List Project.” Saba comes to terms with tragedy and loneliness as he meditates on his grief surrounding the murder of his cousin Walter Long, fellow Pivot Gang Member who produced music under the name John Walt. The album’s penultimate track, “PROM/KING” begins as the story of the development of Saba’s close relationship with Walt, which stemmed from when Walt set him up with a date for prom. The track quickly moves into the story of Walt’s death, which Saba reflects on a way that’s concrete and direct in revealing his pain and shock. The closing track, “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME,” is rapped from the perspective of a person entering heaven, most likely Walt, and the reactions of their community to their death and the sense of being received into the afterlife. Recently, Saba and PIVOT Gang set up the John Walt Foundation to continue Walt’s legacy through work with young artists in Chicago.

– Katie Powers

11. Ariana Grande – “Sweetener”

“Sweetener” is Ariana Grande’s fourth album – being only 25, she’s still growing and we fans can see this growth in her newest album. “Sweetener” displays a newfound maturity and refreshing new songs. “Sweetener,” Grande’s first album since the bombing at her Manchester concert in 2017, feels more honest and distinct than any of her past work. No pop career should ever have a terrorist attack spark a new album, however, the bombing is one inevitable backdrop to “Sweetener.” The album quickly climbed to Number 1 after its release on August 17.

“Sweetener” opens with the short but powerful, a cappella track “Raindrops (An Angel Cried)”, and it ends with “Get Well Soon,” in which Grande promises, “I’ll be right there just to hug you.” The track is 5:22 in length, including the lengthy silence at the end, memorializing the day of the attack.

Using tragedy as a way to unleash her true self, the young star allows herself to work through her emotions in this album. The emotional messages aren’t forced through sad ballads or heavy messages, but instead “Sweetener” has joy radiate through the tracks in a more subtle and low-key way. The best parts of “Sweetener” have her looking for hope and stumbling upon the glow of new love with now ex-fiance Pete Davidson. Overall this album tackles deep emotion while also providing serious bops.

– Isabelle Dyer

10. Kanye West – “Ye”

Whether you love him or hate him, Kanye West is still a considerably artistic mind in music today. Aside from some of his singles like “XTCY, “Lift Yourself,” and “I Love It”(a collaboration with Lil’ Pump), Kanye released an album, Ye, this year of June 1. The compilation of songs follows Kanye’s very notable controversies regarding Twitter and Trump. In a sense, maybe the album serves as a response to how he is portrayed by the media. Though “Ye” is not one of his best work, it succeeds at bringing to light the struggles of a troubled man and a cry out for help. A majority of people seemed to like it too as it garnered mostly positive reviews.

There’s no denying that “Ye” is a depressing album. At the time, Kanye West was dealing with opioid addiction and a series mental breakdowns. With songs entitled “I Thought About Killing You” and lyrics of self-harm in “Ghost Town”, it would be hard to argue the contrary. “Ye” tries to fit Kanye’s emotions in a measly 24 minutes, which is a bold move on his end. At some points, it is hard to understand what his intentions were. Despite this, people could relate.

– Jillian Little

9. “Black Panther Soundtrack”

“Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By” consists of various African American artists who worked on the album of the critically acclaimed Marvel movie. If we were to be completely honest though, we could say it’s basically a Kendrick Lamar album, as he co-produced it. Whether he was the rapper or faintly in the background, Kendrick dominated on almost every song. Despite this, artists like SZA, Khalid, and The Weeknd humbly added their artistic contributions as well to represent black excellence in the music industry.

My personal favorite song off the album is “Kings Dead,” which is a little controversial. In no way is it the best song on the album as I would give that title to “All the Stars,” “The Way,” or even “Pray For Me.” People gave “Kings Dead” a lot of crap because of Future’s verse, which I will admit was a little whack. It didn’t really work with the flow of the song, but it’s something you can learn to like or at the very least tolerate. In my book, the song is a bop. Every time it comes on, everyone should dance. It’s just a shame that only two songs on the album were used the film (“King’s Dead” not included).

– Jillian Little

8. Christine & the Queens – “Chris”

Christine and the Queens’ Heloise Letissier has never shied away from who she is. And on “Chris,” her sophomore outing, this strong sense of self takes center stage, creating a multilayered album of love and vulnerability and just full-on sexiness. The lyrics on “Chris” are sharp and incisive, almost daring the listener to question what they’re missing out on by only listening to the English language version.

A stark look at machismo, femininity, and the fluidity between those two paradigms, Letissier creates one of the year’s most exciting works, all while sprinkled on top of some great funk basslines. Tracks like “Girlfriend” and “Damn (what must a woman do)” are both assertive and sultry, a theme that can describe the album as a whole.

“Chris” is a fully realized vision, more confident than Letissier’s “Chaleur Humaine,” but that’s kind of the point. It’s hard to imagine Letissier topping this, but considering the leaps and bounds made from her first album to “Chris,” I’m looking forward to whatever she throws at us next.

– Elani Kaufman

7. Hippo Campus – “Bambi”

Who is this strange man, and what has he done with Hippo Campus? Just kidding. But in all seriousness, “Bambi” is something else. Though Hippo Campus is venturing into musical evolution, they are still hopefully hopeless (in the best way).

“Mistakes,” the first song on Hippo Campus’ sophomore album, enters with a section of ethereal synthesizers, followed by a shockingly deep and mature vocal section. A few songs on “Bambi” insinuate a slow movement away from the east-coast indie sounds of “Landmark.”

While on the other hand, playful songs like “Why Even Try” and “Golden” prove that Hippo Campus will always hold onto their trademark sound that separates them from the rest. Luppen’s voice endures more valleys and maturity, but its original sound holds its ground – even intertwined with “Bambi’s” Passion Pit derivative aura. His voice is still vulnerable as ever, despite the maturation.

“Bambi” is introspective and spiritual. There are multiple points with lyrical references to “vibes.” “Bambi” is a musical smorgasbord. We tambourines, experimental beats, some subtle woodwinds, more piano work, droplets of water, even a metallic section. While you could argue that “Bambi” is testing out pop waters, there really is much more to it.

“Bambi” has songs that belong in a sunshine yoga session, some that belong in a dive bar, some that belong in an indie movie montage. Produced by Bon Iver, “Bambi” has been pegged some of Hippo Campus’ best lyrical work yet. The writing is honest and gritty, yet still poetic. It could be published on its own.

– Casey Daly

6. The 1975 – “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships”

If you’re unfamiliar with The 1975 and their music, you’re going to have to go find a quiet space with nothing distracting you and just take 58 minutes to listen to this album. It’s not an album you can listen to while doing homework or working out because you would be missing all of the messages packed into these 15 songs.

The 1975 is known for their very unique sound, but “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” takes this sound to a whole new level, playing around with new sounds while still staying true to that classic The 1975 sound we all know and love.

Though “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” has many upbeat bops that will have you dancing around the room, a lot of the issued tacked in the songs are not lighthearted ones. In “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You),” lead singer Matty Healy opens up about his heroin addiction. In “Love It If We Made It,” the band discusses many different issues present in the world right now and how “Modernity has failed us.”

It would take hours to unpack such a loaded album, and there are so many differing opinions surrounding the album, so it is definitely worth listening to.

– Carolina Garibay

5. Noname – “Room 25”

In September, Chicago rapper Noname released her debut album “Room 25” in September following the success of her critically acclaimed 2016 mixtape, “Telefone.” Showing off her roots in the Chicago poetry community, Noname makes use of intimate and intricate language throughout the album to reflect on her maturity and strengthened sense of self that she’s developed in between “Telefone” and now. Following a theme present in her previous releases and past live performances, “Room 25” fosters a sense of community among current voices in the Chicago rap scene with features from Phoelix, Saba, Smino, Ravyn Lenae, among others. Combined with her signature dreamlike jazz rhythms, Noname has created a masterpiece in “Room 25,” relaying stories of a pivotal period in her life that are equal parts vulnerable, humorous and existential.

– Katie Powers

4. Beach House – “7”

Beach House is a psychedelic dream-pop duo consisting of vocalist/keyboardist Victoria LeGrand and guitarist Alex Scally. Most known for their dreamy instrumentals and velvety vocals, the album “7” is no different. However, the album still stands out from the rest of their discography for taking on a more experimental, distinct, darker sound. The songs on the album are diversely engaging — revealing of what Beach House can offer. The album is a beautiful listen with its contemplative lyrics, beckoning vocals and jaw-dropping instrumentals that feels very purposeful and masterful. The duo also has a way of incorporating heavenly yet apocalyptic elements within this album that is very refreshing and innovative.

The album puts you in a dream-like state. Many of the songs’ themes are very melancholic and sentimental. The album is captivating in that it pushes the boundaries by offering reverb-y and psychedelic instrumentals making it very stimulating to listen to. The songs are distinct in themselves, but “Lemon Glow” is a standout track for its sensual and outstanding song progression which leads to a chaotic, explosive ending. The songs on this album are crafted so masterfully and creatively which results in a full musical listening experience. The album is a musically stimulating adventure that incorporates transcendental, dreamy elements that make for a riveting and memorable record.

– Eunice Alpasan

3. Mac Miller – “Swimming” 

After what seemed like a two-year hiatus, Mac Miller released three new singles: “Small Worlds,” “Buttons” and “Programs,” which alluded to his fifth studio album “Swimming,” released in August. These singles all demonstrated very unique sides to Mac Miller’s sound that his fans had never experienced before, and the album overall generated mostly positive reviews; it was even nominated for Best Rap Album at next year’s Grammy Awards.

After releasing the album The Divine Feminine in 2016, an album based on his heartfelt love and admiration for singer Ariana Grande, “Swimming” focuses on the downfall of their relationship. Mac discusses what he has learned through his relationship about himself and his lyrics demonstrate self-love and healing.

The album overall incorporates songs that have slow heartfelt tempos as well as songs with upbeat tempos and groovy beats making it a very versatile and unique album that almost anyone can find solace in.

This is the last album that Mac Miller was able to release before his recent death on September 7. This album gave listeners the chance to hear more of Mac Miller’s sound, which is what made fans appreciate it so much and caused great sadness that they will not get to experience more of what Mac Miller is capable of producing. Mac Miller was a highly respected and appreciated artist and this album will shape his legacy for years to come.

– Isabella Sohn

2. Janelle Monae – “Dirty Computer” 

Janelle Monáe proudly bears the torch the pop legends of the past handed to her, many directly involved in the making of her masterpiece “Dirty Computer” itself: the likes of Brian Wilson, Pharrell and Prince all had a direct hand in its creation. Other pop giants were involved too, more implicitly – Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, T.Rex, Lauryn Hill and Funkadelic all helped bring to fruition this album, shepherding the sound of pop into the incredibly immersive cluster of rhythms, polyphonic vocals and harmonies.

Interestingly, a lot of Monae’s sound seems chameleonic, and as a result, the songs that feature other artists on this record lean towards the sounds of the artists she collaborates with themselves. On “Make Me Feel,” she subverts the chorus in an offhanded groove that’s extremely Prince-esque, while the titular track, featuring Brian Wilson, deals in his specialty – voices and sounds weaving a tune that traverses a synaesthetic sonic realm. Monae adds to these tracks powerful yet malleable vocals – the album, with its precise and polished production, invokes an incredible ambiance. Seemingly doing the impossible, Janelle Monáe trumps her 2013 release, “The Electric Lady” – a masterpiece in its own right – and equalling at least her magnum opus, “The ArchAndroid,” to create a work that will be remembered for years to come.

– Mohul Varma

1. Mitski – “Be the Cowboy”

Mitski Miyawaki, known mononymously as Mitski, has always stated that she was a contrarian. When critics praised her masterful “Puberty 2” in 2016, she declared that she would take her next project in a different path, feeling emboldened to do the opposite of what people want from her. And on “Be the Cowboy,” the singer-songwriter’s fifth full-length album, she does just that, creating an album that draws from the best of her previous works and somehow goes further beyond.

Taking a cue from the album’s title, “Be the Cowboy” sees Mitski taking on a brash air, filled with characters that each carve their own space and demand your attention, with guns blazing. “Geyser” opens the album with a sense of urgency and passion, taking traits women are often shamed for and creating a dramatically proud ode to music creation. “Blue Light” shuns rock convention and opens big and boldly, only to slow down into a softer melancholy, flipping the standard progression of rock on its head. On “Nobody,” Mitski manages to create a disco-pop anthem about the isolating despair of loneliness, getting you to dance and then slowly crumble under the weight. The entire 32-minute album is sharp and incisive, taking Mitski’s signature cutting observations and scrappy guitars and evolving them into much larger declarations and bolder sonic directions.

With these characters, Mitski defiantly rejects the narrative that women cannot craft stories of their own, that they only can relay their own experiences like a diary entry. She is loud. Mitski’s presence is made known throughout all fourteen tracks, and she stands her ground in each of them. She is empowered, and much like the American bravado she hopes to conjure, she is the cowboy.

– Elani Kaufman