The A.V. Club’s list of 2018’s best albums was determined by eight critics, who each submitted a ranked ballot of their top 10 to 20 records of the year. Those ballots can be found below, some with annotations providing insight into their choices.
1. Beach House, 7
2. Daniel Avery, Song For Alpha
3. Neko Case, Hell-On
4. Anna Calvi, Hunter
5. DJ Koze, Knock Knock
6. Saba, Care For Me
7. Robyn, Honey
8. Yves Tumor, Safe In The Hands Of Love
9. Georgia Anne Muldrow, Overload
10. U.S. Girls, In A Poem Unlimited
11. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs
12. Low, Double Negative
13. Noname, Room 25
14. Tierra Whack, Whack World
15. Farao, Pure-O
16. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
17. Julia Holter, Aviary
18. Vince Staples, FM!
19. Helena Hauff, Qualm
20. Blood Orange, Negro Swan
1. Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes, Paix (Mexican Summer)
2. Jess Sah Bi & Peter One, Our Garden Needs Its Flowers (Awesome Tapes)
3. Beach House, Devotion (Vinyl Me, Please)
4. Cocteau Twins, Treasure (4AD)
5. Ursula K. Le Guin And Todd Barton, Music And Poetry Of The Kesh (RVNG International)
1. Bbymutha, Bbyshoe
2. Midori Tikada & Lafawndah, Le Renard Bleu
3. Roísín Murphy, Plaything/Like
4. Jenny Hval, The Long Sleep
5. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Abstractions
1. Beach House, “Black Car”
2. Chance The Rapper, “65th & Ingleside”
3. Daniel Avery, “Stereo L”
4. Janelle Monáe, “Django Jane”
5. Robyn, “Because It’s In The Music”
1. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs
2. Yves Tumor, Safe In The Hands Of Love
3. Pusha T, Daytona
4. Let’s Eat Grandma, I’m All Ears
5. DJ Koze, Knock Knock
6. Sir, November
7. Armand Hammer, Paraffin
8. Vince Staples, FM!
9. Empress Of, Us
10. Saba, Care For Me
11. Jay Rock, Redemption
12. Travis Scott, Astroworld
13. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
14. Skee Mask, Compro
15. Rhye, Blood
16. Hermit And The Recluse, Orpheus Vs. The Sirens
17. Nipsey Hussle, Victory Lap
18. Rival Consoles, Persona
19. Amen Dunes, Freedom
20. Ariana Grande, Sweetener
1. BlocBoy JB featuring Drake, “Look Alive”
2. Lil Baby, Gunna, and Drake, “Never Recover”
3. Drake, “Nice For What”
4. Lil Baby & Drake, “Yes Indeed”
5. Drake, “God’s Plan”
1. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
2. Neko Case, Hell-On
3. Anna Calvi, Hunter
4. Mitski, Be The Cowboy
5. Beach House, 7
6. Cardi B, Invasion Of Privacy
7. Ezra Furman, Transangelic Exodus
8. Blood Orange, Negro Swan
9. Screaming Females, All At Once
10. Cupcakke, Eden
1. Sam Wilkes, Wilkes
If Broken Social Scene had formed out of the L.A. ambient-jazz scene of 2018, this would be their You Forgot It In People: a warm, buoyant, viscous set of communal jazz drones that feels like it was recorded in the palo santo haze of someone’s living room in South Pasadena.
2. Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas, s/t
Much as he did on his dub-like remix of Dungen’s Häxan last year, Prins Thomas molds Bugge Wesseltoft’s bright, clean piano lines into something compellingly oblong, the duo rattling the typically austere Norwegian brand of jazz until it becomes something like dance music’s answer to the ECM sound.
3. Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!
Andrew Savage and Austin Brown continue their quiet campaign as two of the most incisive and subtle lyricists in rock ’n’ roll, deftly running their two-man-weave through Parquet Courts’ most musically diverse record yet, and crowning it with one hell of a mission statement in album opener “Total Football.”
4. Kikagaku Moyo, Masana Temples
On their fourth album, the Tokyo psych ambassadors sharpen their vision, refining the wooly jams of 2016’s House in the Tall Grass with surprisingly orderly jams that combine the clean lines of krautrock with the tunefulness of Tame Impala.
5. Georgia Anne Muldrow, Overload
Georgia Anne Muldrow does a whole lot of things well, so it’s tempting to make her into whoever you need her to be—soulful siren, heady beat maker, protest leader—but the warmth of personality that radiates off of Overload melts away any narrative you might want to glom onto it; this is next-generation soul music made explicitly on its own terms.
6. Nine Inch Nails, Bad Witch
Arguably the most compelling Nine Inch Nails record since The Fragile, Bad Witch capitalizes on the lessons Trent Reznor’s learned scoring films over the past decade or so; forget the songs, the frissons come from hearing him arrange sandpapery textures into loose stacks only to have them scattered apart by blasts of rhythm.
7. Ben Lamar Gay, Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun
The innovative trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist combines free jazz, hip-hop, Steve Reich–ian minimalism, noise, lounge, and hardcore funk in a set that seems like a sampler platter of Chicago’s jazz and improv scene.
8. Szun Waves, New Hymn To Freedom
The heavenly, weightless atmosphere that permeates this album of improvisations for sax, bass, drums, and synth makes it feel like a long series of rosy exhales—or, to bring it back to terra firma, like Alice Coltrane gone hygge.
9. Amaro Freitas, Rasif
Freitas is a Brazilian pianist of stunning dexterity who delights in nothing more than stuffing his percussive, classically influenced jazz lines into the clipped and galloping rhythmic containers set up by his bassist and drummer.
10. Lafawndah and Midori Takada, Le Renard Bleu
There’s been a lot of talk in 2018 about the perils of artists writing for the algorithm, so it’s only fair to give credit to the algorithm for rescuing Japanese percussionist and composer Midori Takada from obscurity, leading to this subtly shaded—but emotionally powerful—single-movement collaboration with Lafawndah.
11. Angélique Kidjo, Remain In Light
Kinda seems unfair of Africa’s premier diva to overshadow David Byrne only three months after his first solo album in a decade and a half, but her Remain in Light shakes some of the nerves out of the Talking Heads original and lets it expand into a warm-hearted celebration of the very music the album cribbed from in the first place.
12. Domenico Lancellotti, The Good Is A Big God
He’s the son of bossa nova singer Ivor Lancellotti and has collaborated with just about every important Brazilian musician of the past fifty years, so it’s no surprise that, like the tropicálistas before him, Domenico Lancellotti brings his musical heritage into conversation with the rest of the world without sacrificing its distinct character.
13. Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings
If you’re looking to understand the state of jazz in 2018, look to this double-decker from the Chicago drummer and producer, which finds him collaborating with the cream of the London, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles scenes.
14. Mouse On Mars, Dimensional People
Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma aren’t the first producers to jam an adrenaline shot of footwork straight into the cold gray heart of Berlin techno, but by working with a massive guest list of musicians that includes Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Lisa Hannigan, Justin Vernon, Swamp Dogg, and more, Mouse on Mars created one of the warmest, most human electronic records of the year.
15. Kamaal Williams, The Return
London organist Kamaal Williams is firmly rooted in jazz tradition, but the joyful sound of his debut as a bandleader has just as much in common with the good-vibes-only world of Kaytranada and Anderson .Paak as it does with the funky organ of Richard “Groove” Holmes or Brother Jack McDuff.
16. Steve Hauschildt, Dissolvi
The former member of Emeralds’ eighth solo record occasionally fizzes and bubbles like a forgotten glass of champagne, and that intermittent effervescence means it goes down nice and easy, then goes straight to your head.
17. Tim Hecker, Konoyo
Even when he makes a self-conscious effort to use more negative space in his compositions, the Montreal sound sculptor can’t help himself: Konoyo is, indeed, Hecker’s clearest album yet, but he still sends SCUD missiles of noise screaming across its blue skies.
18. The Mattson 2 Play “A Love Supreme”
You might think that a guitar-and-drums duo putting together an album-length cover of the holiest of holies is perverse, and you’d probably be right, but Jared and Jonathan Mattson remake the Coltrane classic out of the same hot-asphalt funk Miles Davis forged for On the Corner, making this an exceptionally bold risk that more than pays off.
19. Yoshinori Hayashi, Ambivalence
Sometimes the Tokyo beat maker sounds like he’s phasing twelve copies of a Stan Getz record against one another in a deep bossa-nova groove, and sometimes he sounds like he’s soundscaping for a meditation app, but what unites the wide range of sounds on Hayashi’s first full-length is their great curiosity and sense of space; call it 21st-century dub.
20. Ratgrave, s/t
Imagine a cassette of truck-stop funk stuck in the tape deck of Parliament’s Mothership for twenty or so years and you’ve got a strong idea of the kind of warped and warm weirdness Max Graef and Julius Conrad conjure up here.
1. Jess Sah Bi & Peter One, Our Garden Needs Its Flowers
2. Haruomi Hosono, Light In The Attic reissues package
3. V/A, Soul Diesel Vol. 2
4. Alice Coltrane, Spiritual Eternal—The Complete Warner Bros. Studio Recordings
5. Ornette Coleman, The Atlantic Years
1. The Beths, Future Me Hates Me
2. Jon Hopkins, Singularity
3. No Thank You, All It Takes To Ruin It All
4. Jean-Michel Blais, Dans Ma Main
5. Ovlov, Tru
6. Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt
7. Ross From Friends, Family Portrait
8. Scarves, Dinner Dates For The End Of Days
9. Lume, Wrung Out
10. Muncie Girls, Fixed Ideals
11. Current Joys, A Different Age
12. Kids See Ghosts, s/t
13. Sunflower Bean, Twentytwo In Blue
14. Slow Mass, On Watch
15. Jeff Rosenstock, Post-
16. The Joy Formidable, Aaarth
17. Nicki Minaj, Queen
18. Soccer Mommy, Clean
19. Dessa, Chime
20. Ariana Grande, Sweetener
Of course Ratboys could release an EP of songs that didn’t make their album and have it be as good as anything they’ve done. This four-song collection (a barn-burner, an anthem, a midtempo amble, and a ballad that turns into a stomper) contains everything they do well—though, as always in recent times with the band, it’s when Julia Steiner steps on the pedal, unleashes the riffs, and barrels forward with abandon that the group’s kinetic appeal goes from great to superlative. The next set of songs can’t come soon enough.
1. Janelle Monáe, “Pynk”
2. Robyn, “Missing U”
3. Gabrielle Marlena, “Sorry I Ever Fucked You”
4. LPX, “Might Not Make It Home”
5. Mitski, “Nobody”
1. Bruce Springsteen, The Album Collection Vol. 2 1987-1996
2. Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet 50th Anniversary Edition
3. Zoom, Helium Octipede
4. Digable Planets, Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space)
5. Bikini Kill, The Singles
1. Ezra Furman, Transangelic Exodus
2. Saba, Care For Me
3. Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt
4. Zeal & Ardor, Stranger Fruit
5. Mount Eerie, Now Only
6. Smino, Noir
7. Kasey Musgraves, Golden Hour
8. The Armed, Only Love
9. Beach House, 7
10. Julia Holter, Aviary
11. Svalbard, It’s Hard To Have Hope
12. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
13. High On Fire, Electric Messiah
14. Let’s Eat Grandma, I’m All Ears
15. Conjurer, Mire
1. The Armed, Only Love
2. Daughters, You Won’t Get What You Want
3. C.H.E.W., Feeding Frenzy
4. Slow Mass, On Watch
5. Self Defense Family, Have You Considered Punk Music?
6. Kal Marks, Universal Care
7. Drug Church, Cheer
8. Jeff Rosenstock, Post-
9. SUMAC, Love In Shadow
10. Turnstile, Time & Space
Algernon Cadwallader reissues
It was a bit tragic that the band at the forefront of the so-called “emo revival” was never able to cash in on it. Algernon Cadwallader dropped two classic albums—along with a handful of singles—then broke up just as the movement was gaining steam. After years of their albums being out of print and off streaming services, Lauren Records and Asian Man Records worked to right that wrong, and along with a newly collected album of B-sides and unreleased tracks, it’s nice to have all of Algernon’s intricate, noodly emo back out in the world again.
1. Buffalo Tom, Quiet And Peace
2. Superchunk, What A Time To Be Alive
3. Ashley McBryde, Girl Going Nowhere
4. Johnny Marr, Call The Comet
5. Christine And The Queens, Chris
6. Belly, Dove
7. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Hope Downs
8. Mitski, Be The Cowboy
9. Wild Nothing, Indigo
10. Dream Wife, s/t
11. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
12. Florence + The Machine, High As Hope
13. Yo La Tengo, There’s A Riot Going On
14. Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel
15. Hop Along, Bark Your Head Off, Dog
16. Illuminati Hotties, Kiss Yr Frenemies
17. Turnstile, Time & Space
18. Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
19. Flasher, Constant Image
20. Foxing, Nearer My God
There was never any doubt that the music made by Boygenius (a.k.a. Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers) would be brilliant. However, the trio’s self-titled debut EP is also emotionally devastating, in all the right ways. In addition to the combined dynamic heft of skeletal brushed folk and distorted indie-rock, the music benefits from their stunning harmonies. The trio’s voices ache with an endless well of sadness, as they sing lyrics such as, “I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you” or “I can’t love you, like you want me to.”
1. I’m With Her, “I-89”
2. Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”
3. Kylie Minogue, “Dancing”
4. Pistol Annies, “Got My Name Changed Back”
5. Kacey Musgraves, “High Horse”
1. V/A, Basement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground (Numero Group)
2. Roxy Music, Roxy Music: Super Deluxe Edition (Virgin)
3. The Posies, Dear 23 / Frosting on the Beater / Amazing Disgrace (Omnivore Records)
4. Soul Asylum, Say What You Will… Everything Can Happen / Made To Be Broken (Omnivore Records)
5. Bobbie Gentry, The Girl From The Chickasaw Country: The Complete Capitol Masters (Capitol Nashville)
Listen to selections from our favorite music of 2018 on our Spotify playlist.