by Kasey Anderson
In the interest of full disclosure I should first admit that I intentionally excluded my band's album, From a White Hotel, from this list though I do think it was one of the best albums released this year. It just seemed weird to me to include it. That said, I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to plug the album, which you can purchase here.
On to the list.
More than a decade into her solo career, Shires has established herself as one of the truly great songwriters and instrumentalists of her generation. With To the Sunset - an album that is by turns plaintive, unbridled, and fragile - Shires made what is, at least to this point, the album of her career. Calling it a "Rock" record or an "Americana" record is reductive; To the Sunset is an Amanda Shires record and, at this point, she's good enough to be her own genre.
An album chock full of beautifully arranged, damn-near perfectly delivered, radio-ready singles that for some reason didn't find their way to Country Radio. It's a shame that format has bent over backwards to completely ignore and ostracize women because Musgraves made the best Country record of the year by a wide margin. I guess the Country Radio folks need to make sure there's always enough room on the charts for any dude named Luke who might decide to release a single at some point.
After an eight-year absence, Robyn returned and gave us yet another reminder that, when executed this well, Pop music is still every bit as relevant, rewarding and restorative as it has ever been. Eight years is a long time to wait but Honey arrived at a time when most everyone seems to require daily deliverance from the world in which they're living and for these 40 minutes, Robyn gives us exactly that.
If you're making a list of the best lyricists of the last 25 years and your list doesn't include Jean Grae, I'm sorry, you need to throw your list in the garbage can. Likewise, if your Best Albums of 2018 list doesn't include Everything's Fine, you need to start over. Everything's Fine is an astonishing album -- heartbreaking, wry, recalcitrant and forgiving -- that closes with "River," a song that deserves its own essay.
Technically two EPs (Vol. I was Thought with 9th Wonder, Vol. II with Salaam Remi), each of which could have easily made this list in its own right were I not confined by FTM's rules, Black Thought gave us a welcome reminder that he may well be the best MC to ever do it. In one couplet from "Twofifteen" (I heard murder ran this vast, deserted land / since back when Burning Man was blacks in Birmingham), Thought set the bar high enough that no one else would reach it this year, unless you count the dozen other couplets throughout Streams of Thought that are exactly that good, if not better.
These are such beautifully structured, beautifully arranged songs. With Be the Cowboy, Mitski and producer Patrick Hyland created an album that is lush without being overbearing, and sparse when sparsity is called for -- seemingly every decision made in service of the songs, which are intricate and introspective without sacrificing accessibility.
If there was a better single than "Make Me Feel" this year, I didn't hear it. Dirty Computer evokes Prince at times which makes sense, given his involvement in Monáe's life both personally and professionally. Like Prince at his best, Dirty Computer is celebratory, inclusive and inspired; a reminder that we can dance and march at the same time.
Folks who complain about the direction of Hip-Hop citing mumbly Soundcloud rappers and a lack of substance in lyricism must have missed a whole host of great records this year, Room 25 chief among them. At only 27, Noname finds herself at the vanguard of the ever-evolving genre and if Room 25 is any indication, she should probably get used to seeing her name on end-of-the-year lists.
If you know you know.
McCraven is among a group of young players who have been saddled with the responsibility of "saving" Jazz, a genre which has never been in need of saving to begin with. Here, joined by a number of his contemporaries (Shabaka Hutchings and Dezron Douglas among them), McCraven offers evidence of why he was designated among the genres saviors, while offering proof that Jazz is indeed alive and well.
Ten More Albums I Liked, In No Particular Order
American Aquarium - Things Change
Ariana Grande - Sweetener
Sam Morrow - Concrete and Mud
Anderson .Paak - Oxnard
Vince Staples - FM!
John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness
Brandi Carlile - By the Way, I Forgive You
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel
Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy
Erica Blinn - Better Than Gold