Ah yes, our favourite list of the year. The ultimate Albums Of The Year list. 2018 was a markedly amazing year in music, with killer songs from local up-and-comers like CXLOE and Kwame, an insanely bangin' year from hip hop's finest like Cardi B, Janelle Monae and BROCKHAMPTON, and a glossy, outrageously good year in pop music thanks to Ariana Grande, Robyn and many, many others.
Here we look at our top ten albums of the year, why they made it in this list and what song you shouldn't miss on the record.
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
Janelle Monae had a quiet few years before 2018 and apparently, it was for good reason - she was cooking up the absolutely unprecedented, absolutely amazing Dirty Computer. The impeccably dressed rapper/singer/actor dropped the concept album in April to instant critical fanfare and the release of an "emotion picture" explaining the story behind the album.
Fiercely feminist and sexually liberating, the album traipsed funk, rap, trap, soul and a multitude of genres in between through singles like I Like That, Make Me Feel, Pynk and Django Jane, working with the likes of Pharrell, Grimes, Zoe Kravitz and even Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. We love a concept album and this was one we got undeniably lost in.
Twenty One Pilots - Trench
A concept album centred around the band's mysterious but fictional Dema universe, Trench was Twenty One Pilots' return to the world after a year-long hiatus. Treading serious topics like mental health, isolation and self-doubt, Trench saw the Ohio duo continue to push their genre-agnostic boundaries, with the band touching on reggae, rap and hard rock to tell their story.
The strength of the album aside, part of Trench's appeal is the unmatched attention to detail the band pay to all of their concepts. Following the Blurryface storyline, the band scattered secret maps, letters and "stories" throughout the internet for Trench's Dema world, leaving the band's fans theorising on Reddit pages and Twitter as to what it could all mean. The music videos they released for Nico & The Niners, Levitate and Jumpsuit were a three-part series, all containing clues and more easter eggs connecting this album to Blurryface. The sheer depth of the band's concepts is not one we can ignore when considering why this album is as good as it is.
Ariana Grande - Sweetener
Sweetener could’ve been a very different record for Ariana. You wouldn’t blame her for being downbeat on her first album since 2017’s tragic Manchester attack but Ariana’s mind has always been stronger than that. Sweetener is a beacon of positivity. A shining pop record that doesn’t sugarcoat things but prioritises mental health and self-care in a year where we all needed it.
Together with Pharrell and Max Martin’s team, she crafted a forward-thinking sound that was the equivalent of a candy cloud. Everything from the bop-it beat of Sweetener to the giddy vocal heights of Goodnight N Go sounds like it’s an audible extension of Ariana’s DNA. Each of her previous albums suggested she had a classic within her and Sweetener finally delivered.
Must-listen: get well soon
GLADES - To Love You
A debut album this strong for a young band like GLADES is a huge feat. Considering the band have only been around for a handful of years and guitarist Cam Robertson only picked up a guitar during uni, To Love You is a thoughful, fun but insightful first look into the Sydney indie pop trio's world. Singer Karina Wykes soars on songs like Nervous Energy and Better Love with breathless emotion, while the band's production finesse, crashing synths and dark beats on songs like Eyes Wide Shut showcases keys player Joey Wenceslao's skill.
But in the end, it comes down to whether it's an enjoyable listen, right? Enjoyable is an understatement, with the album housing not one, not two, but six catchy AF singles in Do Right, Eyes Wide Shut, Not About You, Drive, Sweetheart and Nervous Energy. These guys are a hit-makin' factory and they're only just getting started.
Must-listen: Eyes Wide Shut
Tove Styrke - Sway EP
The Swedes know how to write a damn pop song and Tove Styrke shows us all how it's done. The eight-track EP is one of the most solid we've ever heard - no filler tracks, just tune upon tune. Singles like Say My Name, the title track Sway and Changed My Mind all slap, but truth be told, the songs of the rest of the EP are strong enough to be singles too. I Lied's playful melody is at once memorable, On The Low is honest and vulnerable and she even slips in a cover of Lorde track, Liability.
With fresh production and songs that reinvent the pop mould, it'll definitely keep you swaying the whole time.
Must-listen: Say My Name
Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
No other country album was more present than Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour this year. The third album from the forward-thinking Texan country singer sits in the moment and it’s beautiful. Musgraves has always looked to the outside world for inspiration both socially and politically but this time around she got personal, daring to talk about herself rather than others. The result is a lucious, slow moving record that shines bright even while singing about the most mundane of topics. High Horse and Wonder Woman prove though that she hasn’t lost that sharp tongue that has always made her songwriting so charismatic.
Must-listen: Slow Burn
Robyn - Honey
Honey, Robyn’s first album in eight years, is not what we wanted but it’s what we needed. Known for her blaring, forthright heartbreak anthems, Robyn got softer on Honey and gave us a record that you had to sit with (and dance with) to truly appreciate its beauty. Tracklisted in order of when she wrote them, Honey moves from heartbreak (Missing U) to a mission statement that she’s “never gonna be broken-hearted ever again.” In between, she serves building, climatic house-inspired songs that build like the tide forming a wave. Where Robyn would’ve let that wave crash in the past, this time it’s finessed. She takes her time and once you’re in the middle of Honey you can feel the movement pulsing through your veins. Once again, we’re back on the dancefloor with Robyn, healing together.
Must-listen: Ever Again
Panic! At The Disco - Pray For The Wicked
Many will mention with scathing derision that Panic! At The Disco is only frontman Brendon Urie these days as the only remaining member of the original band, but though that's the case, Panic! At The Disco have never been bigger or better. Pray For The Wicked continues Brendon's knack for writing a party-startin' hook and seamlessly integrating jazz, punk, Broadway inspiration and big band extravagance, all wrapped up in his trademark breathtaking vocals. High Hopes is Panic! At The Disco's biggest hit in years - and biggest hit ever in Australia - and its positive energy is another part of why we love Panic! so much. Gone are the days of name-calling in Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off and I Write Sins Not Tragedies.
Now It's all about songs with positivity and energy - (Fuck A) Silver Lining, Say Amen (Saturday Night) and Hey Look Ma I Made It are all endearing, chaotic and just damn fun. This album is wicked good.
Must-listen: Say Amen (Saturday Night)
Pusha T - Daytona
Given that Drake and Pusha T’s beef was one of the biggest talking points of hip hop this year, it’s a testament to Daytona’s mastery that it withstood it. Daytona is the most cohesive hip hop album of the year, giving us just seven songs, each as strong as the next. Pusha is still rapping about the same things he always has but he’s never been this focussed. Over Kanye’s chopped, vintage beats, he sounds profound even when he’s simply rapping, “if you know you know.” From the dark, rock ‘n’ roll sounds of Games We Play to the soulful Come Back Baby, Pusha sounds victorious like he’d already won. As the rest of the year would prove, he has.
Must-listen: If You Know You Know
Cardi B - Invasion Of Privacy
The odds were stacked against Cardi. An unexpected number one with Bodak Yellow had made her the most hyped hip hop artist in many years and on top of that, pregnancy rumours swirled while partner Offset was caught cheating. It’s enough to make a new artist implode but instead of that Cardi turned those odds in her favour. She delivered an almost faultless debut that let people into her world. She gave us victorious come-up stories on Get Up 10, heartbreaking relationship woes with Thru Your Phone and an endlessly charismatic party song with I Like It. Invasion Of Privacy is multifaceted but so is Cardi. Everybody thought they had her figured out at one point but she kept surprising.
If you need more proof that Cardi stole the year with Invasion Of Privacy, just look at how Cardi stacked her album with huge features only to outshine every one of them.
Must-listen: I Like It