50 Best Albums of 2018

I say it every year because it’s always true: this year has been great for music. All it takes to find the greatness is an open mind and a set of ears. And a little help from your friends. So to begin, I want to thank all my friends around the world for the tips and the tunes.

More than any recent year, in fact, I had a tough time sorting out all my favorites and cutting them down to only fifty for this list. It’s tough, but it’s also fun. Weighing these pieces of music against each other feels so unfair, but so personal. Deeply personal, in fact. There’s no one here but me, so keep in mind that everything is here because of one man’s opinions. Naturally, I’ll miss some things – so as always I welcome suggestions. Soon I’ll have a secondary list of all the other great albums I heard this year. In the meantime, I hope you read and enjoy and find some new stuff to enjoy here. This is a labor of love, and I just want to share the joy.

Speaking of joy, the header image is a photo I took of my son on one of the last warm-enough days before winter. I love being a dad, and I can’t wait to share music with my kid. For now he mostly just spazzes out to anything I play. Kids are great because they don’t have any prejudices about music. If it moves them, it moves them.

In the past I’ve gotten too verbose with these intros, so I’m keeping it short and sweet. Thank you for reading. These are the best albums of 2018.

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50 Best Albums of 2017

2017 was easily the most definitive year of my entire life. This year, I became a father. I got married. Everything changed, including the way I appreciated music.

It wasn’t my tastes; I didn’t suddenly drop my love for techno and weird jazz to become a dad rock connoisseur, despite in fact making a dad rock mixtape. No, it was a subtle shift in weight, a slight refocusing on what aspects most affect what I love about music. I’m still largely into the same genres and artists as before, but I now feel drawn to facets of sound and meaning that I shied away from before. I’m more interested in peeling back the meaning behind what I’m loving, searching for a thread to pull, an arc to follow. Slowly but surely, I recognized the colors emerging from the stories that built these pieces of art.

It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the behind-the-scenes or the history before becoming a dad; it’s simply that I now find myself automatically working recursively when I’m emotionally struck by something, running down the fibers of time that brought it to my attention, trying to work out a map for my own journey forward in this new life role. I’m living for more than myself finally, and although it feels vulnerable to have my heart living outside my body, it’s incredibly rewarding. I’ve felt more energized, more creative than I have in years. I made five new mixtapes between winters. I began running for the first time. I started writing fiction again. Oh and, along with my wife, I’ve been raising a child pretty successfully for half a year so far. Even more than ever before, I can’t wait to experience what happens next.

Speaking of my wife, that’s her in the header picture above. I thought the image of her, pregnant, hiking in the late winter sunset, encapsulated the way I felt about 2017. All that nervous possibility and raw beauty surrounding the long shadow down the path ahead, feeling real warmth after too many frozen months.

This year, like every year, was bursting full of new, exciting, brilliant music. It only takes some effort and desire to find it all. In another first, I barely read any music journalism, kept up with no major release schedules, and missed out on most of the hype 2017 had to offer. I have only the faintest ideas about what other people hold up as the best music of the year. To me, these 50 albums mattered more than anything else I heard all year, give or take a few. For a more comprehensive picture of the year, be sure to check out 50 more must-hear albums of 2017.

Let’s begin the countdown. These are the 50 best albums of 2017.

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Shigeto – The New Monday

The New Monday is an eclectic set of rhythm vehicles caught in traffic somewhere between hip-hop, spiritual jazz, and the psychedelic fringe of techno. It fully invests in several directions at once, offering a warmly disorienting maze in its ping-ponging structure. This is Shigeto returning to Detroit, trying on its signature sounds, and realizing they fit better together than anything he’s done before.

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Boards of Canada – Seeya Later

Boards of Canada are one of the most unique groups in modern music. Even a casual fan could spot their sound in a matter of seconds. Since their first album, they’ve called Warp Records home, but they’ve never been comfortable in any of the genres that legendary label is known for.

Weaving between neon-drenched hip-hop and menacing techno throb, they’ve charted a singular sound that is utterly approachable from any angle. It’s weird electronic music that your mom, your little brother, anyone can instantly nod along to. With that in mind, I present their best early track, Seeya Later, with a beguiling fan-made video:

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Vince Staples – Big Fish

Vince Staples has been on a nautical kick for a while now, so it’s appropriate that his upcoming full-length album is called Big Fish Theory. Following the Life Aquatic world tour, the logical next step simply had to be Vince rapping on a sinking sailboat.

Thus, the setting for his new single, Big Fish. As with his prior videos, it’s a worth slice of visual art. The song is a low-key banger, too:

 

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Neon Dream [mixtape]

This mix explores the cyberpunk dream world where deep techno and hip-hop meet.

It’s a reflection of where my head is at in early 2017, meshing flights of fancy with the hard texture of life right now. Everything feels weird, glowing with potential for catastrophe and catharsis. Every day is spent finding a new sense of balance, eyes finding the horizon.

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MF Doom + Sade – Sadevillain

I’m not the biggest fan of mashups. Most of the time, they’re shallow gimmicks, the kind of party trick that’s more fun to make than to experience. Sure, it’s impressive when someone links two disparate artists in a catchy dance, but there’s usually nothing profound in the experience, no new light cast on the original pieces.

But sometimes, a mashup just lands in the fertile ground between illusion and revelation. Sometimes the sense of surprise gives way to genuine appreciation.

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