Kyle Kohner’s top 50 albums of 2018: 40-31

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Janelle Monáe, Janelle Monae

Janelle Monáe performs at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Aug. 12, 2018. Photo: Shawn Robbins.

If you read part one of my list of the top 50 albums of the year, you may already be disappointed by some of my choices, especially with Robyn’s comeback album making a “premature” appearance at no. 49. Honey is at the top of many lists. But the beauty of this list is that it’s mine and not yours. I absolutely loved Honey. I just believe there were 48 better albums.

With that out of the way, here’s part two! You’ll notice the grinding presence of industrial specialists, a sultry singer-songwriter on the rise, a rap goddess justifying her namesake and a depressed modern-day poet hidden within the confines of his hoodie. Enjoy!

40. The Soft Moon – Criminal

Luis Vasquez’s solo project The Soft Moon’s densely chaotic new album draws obvious influence from Pretty Hate Machine-era Nine Inch Nails. Vasquez embraces the cutthroat nostalgia but reimagines ‘90s industrial rock with a more energetic and explosive flair. Engineering uncontrollable bursts of technological aggression with post-punk sensibilities, Vasquez’s volatile compositions are sensationally brutal. While the production of Criminal as a whole is muddy, convoluted with static and buzzing with activity, Vasquez’s intentional chaos earns him recognition.

39. Gang Gang Dance – Kazuashita

New age enthusiasts Gang Gang Dance brought a few distinguishable elements to their first new album in seven years: their love for global pop sounds, bizarre dance beats and of course, singer Lizzi Bougatsos’ doing her best Elizabeth Fraser impression.

In typical Gang Gang Dance fashion, the New Yorkers once again toil with peculiar synth sounds, sew in a few shoegazey guitars and incorporate tribal beats. While these components represent the basis of an anxious sound that has brought the band success for over a decade, the blueprint is now furnished with a comparative amount of tenderness and deliberation. Even though hints of post-industrial coarseness occasionally arise (“Young Boy”) Kazuashita brews an undeniably spiritual aura, resulting in the collective’s most delightfully whispy, soft and musically warm embrace yet.

38. Kali Uchis – Isolation

An album featuring the likes of Tyler, The Creator, Jorja Smith, Steve Lacey of The Internet, BADBADNOTGOOD, Damon Albarn and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala adds up to almost certain success. That’s what we have with Kali Uchis’ debut LP, Isolation. Though the eclectic array of features and producers is noteworthy, Uchis is the clear star of the show. Uchis has a uniquely soulful and confident voice, offering a refreshing blend of modern Latin influences with neo-soul, art pop and a psychedelic touch. Championing self-love, independence and female empowerment, Isolation is the most confident debut from any artist this year, and it radiates with a sensual prowess and energy few can match.

37. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

The third and final chapter of Janelle Monáe’s Afro-futuristic parable about autonomy, identity and survival in a near-dystopian future, Dirty Computer is a deeply confrontational record that sees Monáe interacting with her empowering alter ego Cyndi Mayweather once more, but on a far more personal and existential level. Though the visionary trades a bit of the experimental quality that defined her two prior records for pop-leaning hooks and song structures, Dirty Computer embraces simplicity. Monáe takes on a new age mindset to ‘80s synth-pop while digging deep to her neo-soul roots.

Musically electrifying, Monáe’s words are equally stimulating, soaked in potency and importance. Though many of the conversations Monáe has with herself are deeply personal, the sentiments expressed are far-reaching and resonant for women, African Americans and LGBTQ—making Dirty Computer not only one of the most fun listens but also the most optimistic and proactive.

36. Beak> – >>>

Cue up the CAN and NEU! comparisons because Beak>’s third LP pulls from a deep well of Krautrock history. Beak> swallows a well-established formula and vomits it out in the form of an intergalactic journey through the dizzying realms of the Krautrock of tomorrow. If you like your Krautrock hypnotic, sprawling and jazz-infused, look no further than opener “The Brazilian.” If you prefer forlorn and doom-ridden, try “The Harvester.” If you aren’t a fan of the band’s experimental attempts, there is the ‘60s psych-rock closer, “When We Fall.” Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Billy Fuller and Will Young offer a slew of different textures and moods within a very niche section of experimental rock.

35. Tomberlin – At Weddings

While it shouldn’t be played for casual enjoyment, At Weddings is a captivating, voyeuristic experience, one that will force you to return simply based on its emotional ephemerality. It’s an in-the-moment type of emotional release. But Tomberlin’s harrowing debut will leave an imprint because it is both sincere and unafraid to sit in a cesspool of doubt and anxiety.

34. Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch

There has been much confusion regarding whether Bad Witch is an album or an EP. Regardless of what you want to call it, it’s Nine Inch Nails’ most manic and bat-out-of-hell display since 1999’s The Fragile—and the world is a lot better because of it. The 2000s have not been a struggle for the industrial powerhouse, per se. However, there’s no denying that Trent Reznor has failed to scratch the surface of his nervous and ominous material from the ‘90s. But here we are with Bad Witch, a record that sees Reznor and Atticus Ross more invigorated, mechanical and uniquely dissonant.

Shrouded in darkness with death in mind, this album has been tirelessly compared to the despondent world of David Bowie’s Blackstar. The similarities are undeniable. Like Bowie’s last record, Bad Witch uncloaks a wailing, disembodied presence of shadowy saxophone hovering over lively, skittering industrial beats ready to carry listeners away into an unknown realm of darkness.

33. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Even after Cardi B broke the internet with last year’s hit single “Bodak Yellow,” critics had their doubts over the rap star’s staying power. Some wrote her off as a one-hit wonder and a comedic fad who capitalized on her own viral, goofy persona. With Invasion of Privacy, she has surpassed all expectations and then some. Wielding a venomous flow as her weapon of choice, each word rolls off her tongue with vitriol and murderous intent. Though “Bodak Yellow” is the most obvious example of her hostile rapping style, cuts like “Bickenhead” and “Money Bag” parade the Bronx-born superstar’s clever wordplay most maliciously. Through just one album, Cardi B solidified herself as one of the best female rappers and an emcee here to stay for the long haul.

32. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs

It was hard not to think about the well-being of rapper Earl Sweatshirt in the three years since he released I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. With the Odd Future disciple releasing an album drowning in sadness and depressive emotions—capturing a young man unrelentingly pinned to the wall by mental illness and suicidal ideation, many wondered if his mental state would allow him to ever release music again. But the rap prodigy has overcome darkness with a conscious album that once again pulls directly from his psyche. Even with a deadpan, emotionless delivery, Earl’s uncanny way with words provides all the cathartic energy necessary to keep listeners invested in his pain.

Though Some Rap Songs drips with heavy tears of pain, loss and numbness, hope leaks from within each contemplative bar—a sentiment Earl Sweatshirt rarely, if ever, expressed in the past. It’s not like his last record, but it’s the lively breath of hope fans have long awaited from the sad rapper.

31. Death Grips – Year of the Snitch

With Year of the Snitch, Death Grips are back doing what they do best—pulverizing ears and making mush out of listeners’ brains. Even when fans anticipate some change within the band’s style, the rap-rock overlords stick to their guns—MC Ride’s sulfuric bars funneled through industrial loops and deafening power electronics. Listeners might be surprised by the band’s most “palatable” (for them) but equally weird offering. Once again, these three freaks have redefined experimental, noise-driven hip-hop.

To be continued…

Follow writer and photographer Kyle J. Kohner at Twitter.com/kylejkohner and Instagram.com/kylejkohner

This article has been changed to reflect that Will Young, who replaced Matt Williams in 2016, is the third member of Beak>.

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