The Top 25 Albums Halfway Through 2018
The Top 25 Albums Halfway Through 2018
July 2nd officially marks the halfway point of 2018, and with it comes our Top 25 Albums list. It's been a year of surprises, disappointments and a spattering array of different genres emerging with high-end records.
By: Exile Staff
We're halfway through 2018 and only one album from our Most Anticipated Albums list has delivered. It's been an up and down year for music, with polarizing releases from music heavyweights like the Arctic Monkeys and Jack White. While it's been a particularly strong year from some genres (Metal), it has been an equally flat year for other genres (Rock). However, there have been some standouts. In fact, we had to argue tooth and nail to get this list down to 25, each with its own unique accomplishment.
What makes a great album? It's about balance, it's about creativity, it's about taking a step forward, not sideways. It's about having a message and conveying it in a thoughtful and imaginative way. It's about re-listenability and freshness, with moments sprinkled throughout that make you go "wow." An album must take you on a cohesive journey, with each song working together to build a collective art form.
Each one of the following 25 albums excels at these factors and more, and we're all hoping the second half of 2018 continues to treat us to more exceptional albums.
Buckle up. Here's 4000 words on 25 albums from the past 182 days.
25. First Aid Kit
Release Date: January 19th, 2018
Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg returned to their formula of captivating vocal harmonies, pastoral folk guitar hooks, and emotional power ballads. This time through, however, the duo pushed their sound further by adding a full band to their roster as well as a new producer. The album takes a look at Klara's recently tumultuous journey and the road to rebuilding her love-life from ruins. It's gut-wrenching at times, while at other times it's fluffy and light. Their fourth album is their strongest yet, with several stand-out singles and a deep reflection of a love that has come and gone.
Bottom Line: The vocal harmonies of the two sisters alone make Ruins a beautiful listening experience.
Release Date: February 2nd, 2018
Rhye's R&B sophomore album Blood is super sexy. On Blood, Mike Milosh is without previous collaborator Robin Hannibal and is all on his own and while it doesn't take massive strides forward artistically, it builds upon the sound Milosh has perfected. One through 11, Blood showcases Milosh's whispery falsetto and subtle musical intricacies. The tempo stays slow and steady and the album as a whole maintains a quiet hush, making deviations and changes in dynamics that much more impactful. It really takes you into its own dimension with everything from french horn to viola. Every note is precise and Milosh shows a perfectionist's touch with pristine attention to detail.
Bottom Line: Blood is a polished, organic, and elite level R&B album.
Listen: "Count to Five"
23. The Moondoggies
"A Love Sleeps Deep"
Release Date: April 13th, 2018
Flying under the radar from Everett, Washington come The Moondoggies and A Love Sleeps Deep via Sub Pop Records. Surprisingly, the band has been doing their thing since 2005 without much attention. The album is big, bright indie-rock meets Americana, with relentless dueling guitars, vocal hooks and melodies, and creative keyboard work. With eight tracks, the album is still robust, with the shortest track coming in at over four minutes. There are no shortages of inventive riffs, with each song being absolutely packed with unique ideas from beginning to end. Not to mention, the album is a helluva lot of fun, bursting with energy. It's a roll the windows down and crank it while you're flying down the highway type of music.
Bottom Line: The Moondoggies made the album The Sheepdogs wish they could've.
22. Beach House
Release Date: May 11th, 2018
The seventh album aptly named 7 from Beach House continues an impressive streak of quality releases. Is it more of the same dream-pop from Beach House? Not quite. Yes, this is an incredibly "Beach House-y" style record, but the Baltimore duo continues to morph and expand their distinct sound. Instrumentation is thicker, ideas are bigger, and climactic moments are remarkable. By this point, Beach House has turned their careers into that of near-legends, but this is not an album that limps to the finish line. Balanced from top to bottom, 7 might actually get stronger as it progresses. Similarly to #24 on our list, this album could've been ranked much higher if it had taken a few more risks, but by continuing to perfect a sound that is now uniquely theirs, 7 belongs nonetheless.
Bottom Line: 7 is a deeply interesting and immersive album, with Victoria Legrand's vocals as hypnotic as ever.
Release Date: March 5th, 2018
In a word, Pouya feels hungry. He has developed his craft to a level where he can’t be confused with the rest of the rap world. At its heart, FIVE FIVE sees Pouya really defining his own sound as an individual, one that attempts and succeeds at carving his place out in the sea of garbage that infects the genre as a whole. Perhaps that’s why everyone wants him on their own tracks now, to lend some credibility to their own sound because no matter the style, Pouya is as versatile as they come. No longer making a name for himself through other rappers tracks, Pouya has arrived and is here to stay.
Bottom Line: Pouya has exceptional flow and an intrinsic likability. His album is produced expertly and is a revitalizing offering to the genre.
20. Cancer Bats
"The Spark That Moves"
Release Date: April 24, 2018
A headbanger's heaven. Cancer Bats unleash a full-throttle attack on each track with a consistent barrage of pure energy. Filthy, squealing guitar riffs sparkle on the album, while the bass and drums keep the relentless punk-metal pace. The good Canadian kids are back at it again with another solid album that will grip you by the throat and beat up to a pulp.
Bottom Line: The Spark That Moves is bursting with energy, containing relentless badass riffs.
Listen: "We Run Free"
19. Rival Consoles
Release Date: April 13th, 2018
Ryan Lee West, also known as Rival Consoles, created Persona with a strong intention to focus on rhythm. His past three full-length albums have been harmonic, melody based, but with Persona, organic drums and rhythms weave and evolve masterfully. The tone is set from the opening "Unfolding", an uneasy and brooding track. Starting with all instrumentation perfectly structured, each element slowly goes its own independent and nearly chaotic way. From track to track, tempos drastically changed, making the listening experiences intentionally fragmented. The album is sonically dark in soundscapes, but is expansive in scope, with dreamy ambient moments, to fast-paced experimental EDM.
Bottom Line: Persona builds, broods, and pays off with impressive layering and varying moods.
Close second: "Unfolding"
18. Mk. Gee
May 18th, 2018
Maybe Mk.Gee doesn't have the pedigree of Beach House or First Aid Kit, but Pronounced McGee is every bit as impressive. The album is a fusion of the old-school sounds of funk, soul, and rock, combined with new electronic programming and face-melting guitar solos. Pronounced McGee is a great time, with songs like "I Know How You Get" and "Over Here" being absolute gems. It's nicely balanced, with a blend of slower ballads and upbeat near-dance tracks. Michael Gordon, aka Mk.Gee, has a bright future ahead of him.
Bottom Line: Deep grooves, impressive guitar licks, and the perfect blend of synths create an album that isn't a "throwback" to sounds of the past, but building on those sounds into something modern.
Listen: "Over Here"
17. Kendrick Lamar/Various Artists
"Black Panther: The Album"
Release Date: February 8th, 2018
When you put that many music superstars together to work on a singular project, things might be expected to go wrong. Not the case here. Kendrick Lamar, SZA, ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Khalid, Vince Staples and more, work seamlessly and collectively in an extremely creative soundtrack that's full of expression. The artists all are acutely aware of the mission and purpose of this effort, focusing on unison. Sprawling over nearly 50 minutes, each artist contributes their piece to the larger good of the album.
Bottom Line: Rich, integrated, and the epitome of a successful rap collaboration.
Listen: "All the Stars"
16. Ty Segall
Release Date: January 26th, 2018
Robust doesn't begin to describe it. It's 19 tracks and 75 minutes long without ever feeling bloated. Music pours out of Segall, with over 10 albums in the last decade, but Freedom's Goblin is especially special. He's adding brass to his already insatiable thirst for creative songwriting. He continues to innovate and explore new depths of the indie-rock genre he's beginning to be a titan in. There are fuzzy guitar moments, "na na na" singalong moments, power-pop hooks, and vulnerable vocal moments. It's not a precise, perfectly polished journey, but who's looking for that in a rock record?
Bottom Line: There's plenty to chew on here, and while the length can be overwhelming at first glance, the album pulls you in slowly and has something for everyone.
Listen: "My Lady's On Fire"
15. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
"Sex & Food"
Release Date: April 9th, 2018
For a lo-fi album, it is incredibly polished sounding. Sex & Food impressively takes the current collective of technophobic music to another level. While in places, the specific aesthetic of the album can be suffocating and haunting, it thrives with other more compact ideas. Whether it's with frenzied psychedelic rock achievements, or patiently building clean guitar riffs that throb and pulsate, Sex & Food is unique to itself in the currently cluttered and increasingly plain music buffet.
Bottom Line: With straightforward badass rock tunes like "American Guilt" and "Major League Chemicals" nicely meshing with slow burns like "Ministry of Alienation" and "The Internet of Love (That Way)", Sex & Food takes us on a very interesting journey.
Listen: "American Guilt"
Release Date: May 4th, 2018
Throughout 10 tracks and 41 minutes of music, these twentysomething millennials (not to be confused with ‘90s New York prog-rockers Ice Age) manage to redefine the sonic possibilities of punk rock while simultaneously challenging the listener’s preconceptions of what a punk rock record should sound like in 2018. Expect the unexpected. In addition to the core instrumentation of bass, drums, guitar, and vocals, this Copenhagen quartet manages to leave just enough breathing room on much of Beyondless.
Bottom Line: Vibrant and vital, Beyondless reenergizes and reaffirms the infinite possibilities of a paradoxical youth based genre now in its 40th year.
Listen: "Pain Killer"
13. Amen Dunes
Release Date: March 30th, 2018
Damon McMahon, aka Amen Dunes, went through some extremely tough times during the making of this album, including his mother being diagnosed with cancer. As with most music, and art for that matter, the most emotional periods of a musicians life can lead to their most impressive creations. The songwriting is subtle, with a sprinkling of effects here and there, crisp and simple percussion, and stripped back guitar riffs. This album is about McMahon and his introspective release of his personal hardships. While there's a lot of heavy thematic content here, the album never comes across heavy. It maintains a light and easy going vibe throughout.
Bottom Line: Freedom, the fifth album from Amen Dunes, is an emotional rollercoaster anchored by McMahon's vulnerable vocal performance with guitar riffs giving it the space it needs.
12. The Voidz
Release Date: March 30th, 2018
The Voidz have an awesome liberty to their music - nothing is off the table in terms of experimentation. Virtue is a much more balanced, focused effort compared to their previous release Tyranny, yet the band still explores and incorporates a variety of genres and techniques into a truly unique sonic blend. Virtue's 15 songs are a lot to process, and it's tempting to suggest that the album would be more effective if three or four songs were cut from it. While cutting songs may make it an easier listen, The Voidz never intended this album to be mainstream-listener-ready. It’s challenging, but its complexity can be stomached, churned, processed, dissected, and ultimately greatly appreciated.
Bottom Line: The musical talent that is Julian Casablancas riddles Virtue with thought-provoking lyrics that, blended with an assortment of different instrumentals, convey a multitude of emotions and ideas that keep the listener engaged.
11. Young Fathers
Release Date: March 9th, 2018
The relentlessly inventive trio that is Young Fathers continued their inventive music making on Cocoa Sugar, a blend of soul, rock, hip-hop, and electronica. There are some incredible moments, with "In My View", "Tremolo" and "Lord" encapsulating everything that makes Young Fathers a special group. Cocoa Sugar is darker than the band's previous releases, and this is shown most emphatically through its lyrical content. They don’t nibble around the edges, but dive head first in exploring the dark side of all humanity. The album deserves a thorough listen, and while it might take some time for it all to make sense, it's worth it.
Bottom Line: Cocoa Sugar is a raw, vulnerable, almost spiritual exploration of what it is to be human.
Listen: "In My View"
10. Jack White
"Boarding House Reach"
Release Date: March 23rd, 2018
One of the year's most polarizing releases, Boarding House Reach has rock legend Jack White experimenting in ways we haven't heard from him before. For his most personal record to date, White holed up in a rented apartment, freshly divorced and with his childhood tape recorder to write the songs. It’s a sprawling and creative effort, if a bit scattered. However, such an ill-defined sound, along with consistent use of interludes, could be White reflecting on the shortened attention span of the smartphone age. Ridiculously ambitious and creative, Boarding House Reach has moments ranging from funky genius to piano ballad.
Bottom Line: While it may not be for everyone, White's creative ability is shown in every second on the album, with masterful lyricism and fearless riff-taking.
Listen: "Connected By Love"
9. Rivers Of Nihil
"Where Owls Know My Name"
Release Date: March 16th, 2018
Saxophone in death metal? Yes, please. Striking a delicate balance between progressive elements and pummelling death metal, Rivers of Nihil took a massive chance with this album and it paid off big time for them. It's an emotional, highly-nuanced, and atmospherically complex listen packed full of goosebump-worthy swells and nosedives. A truly unique piece and a must hear for 2018.
Bottom Line: More than just a saxophone gimmick, the album is brutal, jaw-droppingly technical, and a refreshing addition to a sometimes stale genre.
Listen: "The Silent Life"
8. Soccer Mommy
Release Date: March 2nd, 2018
With her debut studio album, Sophie Allison delivered. In a strikingly honest and succinct 34 minutes, Allison pulls you in slowly with the art of simple songwriting. While the structure of her songs may be basic, the lyrics and soft sounding guitar work tell an intense and powerful story. While there is a band backing the 20 year old talent, Clean is ultimately about Allison and her guitar. A remarkably mature and enjoyable listen, it will undoubtedly spawn the beginning of a new wave of female-lead bedroom rock, most of which will pale in comparison to this raw and pure indie-gem.
Bottom Line: Simple, honest, and composed, Clean is full of straight-forward melodies and wonderfully crafted lyrics.
7. Jon Hopkins
Release Date: May 4th, 2018
Singularity is without a doubt, a true achievement in the electronic genre. Singularity is impossible to deny. Hopkins continues his output of crafting mesmerizing and organic electronic music that few, if any, producers of our time are able to. He's in the absolute upper echelon of technical and creative producers. Of course, it isn't exactly an "easy" listen. In fact, you're going to need to dedicate an hour and 15 minutes to it, because Singularity is meant to be heard all in one go. Start to finish. It's a living entity, where instruments are born, interact with each other and dissolve into something else. The album continues to evolve and push towards its predetermined end, never settling, never taking an easy or simple approach. It's dense without being heavy-handed, it's transcendent without being over-indulgent. It's art.
Bottom Line: Singularity is a truly beautiful album, creating an atmosphere and aesthetic that is glorious. The intricacies, layers arranged, and patience shown by Hopkins are the gold standard.
Listen: "Emerald Rush"
6. Ben Howard
Release Date: June 1st, 2018
Ben Howard's third studio album showcases his spectacular songwriting ability, while he continues to push his sound forward towards a more atmospheric one. Noonday Dream offers a somber 50 minutes with a sonically depressing underbelly, but its depths, melodies, and incredible atmosphere more than make-up for the emotional journey it puts us through. The album is extremely intimate, creating a direct one-to-one connection with its listener and their hearts. Howard has impressively carved out a sound unto his own, with "A Boat to an Island on the Wall" as the masterclass on the slow-burn. His vocals this time around might not have the soaring range as albums previous, but its weight and delivery outshine those changes.
Bottom Line: While almost painfully introspective, Noonday Dream is a gorgeous and complete indie-folk record that may end up being Howard's magnum opus.
5. Jeff Rosenstock
Release Date: January 5th, 2018
One of our favorite moments of the year has to be when Jeff Rosenstock unassumingly released the punk album that all following punk albums of the year would be compared to. POST- is shaping up to be a classic. Political, frustrated, comedic, and original, POST- is a treat, a delicious punk offering, an urgent middle-finger at US politics and an unforgiving biography of Rosenstock's current emotional state. “Let Them Win” is an anthem. "USA" is an achievement, and "9/10" is hilarious and melancholy. This is a band teeming with inextinguishable creative and musical ability and humbly shows it off in every bar, and their disobedience of past punk conventions makes “POST-“ a helluva fun album to listen to.
Bottom Line: Rosenstock energizes the punk genre with passionate tracks, clever lyrics, and a focused purpose and message.
4. Natalie Prass
"The Future and the Past"
Release Date: June 1st, 2018
Dipping into influences from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Natalie Prass tapped into a feeling on election day and expressed it in a superior second album. Mixing songs of love and loss with a biting and topical political message that paints the darkness, as well as the light, of being socially progressive in modern America. The album is teeming with elite level songwriting, and an adaptability to pivot after the election changed her. Elevated by a house band nothing short of flawless, Prass weaves her story through elements of swing, soul, bone-dry funk, and with an effortless sounding vocal performance, the album only gets stronger as it progresses.
Bottom Line: While Prass’ debut hinted at the potential of this sound, The Future And The Past finds the pockets deeper, the layers more tasteful, and the strings sparse but just as cinematic.
3. Kali Uchis
Release Date: April 6th, 2018
Another surprisingly triumphant debut release in our top ten, this time with the Columbian-American Kali Uchis. Managing to be great from song one to song 15, Isolation is a musical feat to behold. Kali dares to tackle a plethora of different sounds, none ever coming across as forced or unnecessary. While songs like "Miami" and "Flight 22" whisk you away in a dreamy R&B cloud, "Just a Stranger" and "Dead to Me" are fast-paced hits, with rhythms and melodies that juxtapose their defiant lyrics. It's wonderfully produced, and ultimately, it's vibe is undeniable.
Bottom Line: Expertly blending retro genres with an edgy and fresh R&B sound, Isolation is as consistent and as balanced as an album can get.
Listen: "Flight 22"
2. Rolo Tomassi
"Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It"
Release Date: March 2nd, 2018
Coming in at #2 on our list is an album that deserves a lot more attention then it's been getting. Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It is a magnificent album, covering the entire range of human emotion. It advances on a perfect arc, with the opener a soft, serene cloud of synths, and concluding with the beautiful and weighty vocals of Eva Spence. Two songs in, you might have no idea that blast beats and death metal growls are around the corner if you're unfamiliar with the group. The band is talented beyond belief and works together as a perfect unit, and the vocal duo of Eva and James Spence create yet another layer of musical bliss. From monumental breakdowns to long slow technical bridges, to heartfelt vocal passages and chaotic math-core frenzies, Time Will Die can only be described by one word: epic.
Bottom Line: Immaculate and sonically perfect, Time Will Die covers tons of ground with painstaking precision, mosh-pit riffs and heart-wrenching moments.
Release Date: February 2nd, 2018
We argued a lot about this one. Ultimately, Microshift is a remarkable album that can be enjoyed by such a wide spectrum of music fans. That accessibility is important, creating a little something for everyone while maintaining a fascinating cohesion within their blend of electronic sounds and indie-rock power-riffs. Accessibility is not to be misinterpreted as "simple" or "easy", for there are some fearless risks taken on Microshift. Balanced in between some compact tracks with sing at the top of your lung choruses, are some esoteric tracks, with long passages that build anticipation and excitement.
The album is as impressive technically as it is artistically, with an already great band taking another difficult and large step forwards. From the opening "Negative Space" which transitions halfway through from power anthem to near power ballad, to the deeply emotional and heart-wide-open "Opener", Hookworms have recorded a truly wonderful album. Its re-listenablilty is extreme, with each new listen through discovering a new element or subtle hook to smile at. If any album from the second half of 2018 is able to triumph Microshift from our #1 spot, we're in for a fantastic year of music as a whole.
Bottom Line: A complete and refreshing album that only gets better with each and every new listen. Perfectly fusing indie-rock with electronic elements, Microshift is a hugely satisfying listen.
Listen: "Negative Space"