Spencer's Favorite Albums of 2018
15. Cardi B—Invasion of Privacy
In a year with some comically bloated hip-hop albums (looking at you, Drake and Lil Wayne), Cardi B gave us 13 songs spanning just 48 svelte minutes. It’s pop rap, and this is an album nearly built entirely from singles. I don’t know who was that driving force behind this decision, but it’s smart. Cardi’s larger-than-life personality that comes through on her music is best when served potent. In long-form, it’s likely diluted at best and grating at worst. With Invasion of Privacy, Cardi has one of hip-hop’s most well-produced albums of the year. Who’d have guessed?
In the end, the group may have set the bar too high with 2017’s trio of releases. Or maybe they—pun intended—over-saturated the market. Iridescence isn’t bad by any stretch. In fact, I don’t know that it’s any worse than, say, Saturation II, which I ranked #8 a year ago. But after three of these things in 2017, it just doesn’t do as much for me. That might be unfair, but it’s the truth.
13. Mount Eerie—Now Only
More expansive but no less fraught, the sequel to A Crow Looked At Me sees Phil Elverum continue to grapple with the death of his wife. While the first album could scarcely muster guitar plucks and half-sung lyrics, this one broadens its sonic palette while keeping the lyrics as biting as ever: “And is it my job now to hold whatever's left of you for all time? And to reenact you for our daughter's life?” It’s crushing, and it’s also just a fascinating thing to think about. This isn’t the type of album you’re going to casually listen to in a car. It’s a blisteringly sad narrative, which almost makes it like a musical novel or memoir. Listen once or twice to soak it all in and never return.
Weller was a nice little surprise in 2018, hitting the mark with a self-titled album running just 23 minutes—a warm, concise bunch of songs resembling something like emo guitar pop. Some of these are incredibly fleeting. I love “Boroughs,” which is not even two minutes long. It reminds me of what Joyce Manor did years ago when they used to cram 60 minutes worth of punk energy into sub-20 minute “albums.” Weller is doing the same, but replacing that riled-up angst with a more downtempo, melodic version. It works well for them.
11. Camp Cope—How To Socialise & Make Friends
Speaking of angst… Camp Cope’s sophomore album is full of razor sharp criticisms of their surroundings. It’s certainly not emo, but it’s not quite pop punk either. The band’s rough edges have a folksy vibe, further contributing spunk to their aura—as if they needed any more of that. They’re a band with talent for any generation but a subject matter best suited for this one. Lead singer Georgia Maq is incredibly talented and gives listeners the sense she’s headed for something big—with Camp Cope or otherwise.
10. Lil Wayne—THA Carter V
Was Tha Carter V Lil Wayne’s best album? Not even close. Was it a great album? Not really. Is it comforting to know that, in 2018, at 36 years old, Lil Wayne still has something left in the tank? Honestly, yeah. Artists in hip-hop have a historically short shelf life. Eventually Ice Cube becomes a children’s actor, Jay Z gets old and boring, Eminem forgets how to rap, and Kanye goes nonsense. It’s the natural cycle of things.
I’d long since written off Wayne’s musical ability. Since his incarceration on Rikers Island in 2010, there have been scant (and I mean scant) number of songs I’ve found enjoyment in. It’s been a long eight years, and I never thought he’d restore hope with an 87-minute project in 2018, but here we are.
This thing is badly bloated. I never do this, but I was actually able to self-edit the album down to a slimmer 13 songs and 49 minutes. The fact that there are more than a dozen Wayne songs to be saved in 2018 says all you need to know about why it’s in my top 10. It’s merely the ghost of Lil Wayne, but it’s hard not to find comfort in a musical superhero emptying what may be the final drops in the tank.
09. Joyce Manor—Million Dollars to Kill Me
For a band that started on the extreme punk end of the pop-punk spectrum, they sure have excelled at life on the opposite end. Million Dollars To Kill Me is a tremendous wave pool of melody and a carefully assembled piece of (something like) guitar pop. It’s proof that “pop” shouldn’t be seen as a slur in music circles, because I think this is really great, and to be respected. Through its rowdier moments and its quieter ones, the project never sacrifices songwriting for its sweeter-than-candy melodies.
While the band has largely grown past its aggressive guitars and gut-punch percussion, it hasn’t strayed form keeping things brief. The album is just 22 minutes long, and it uses its lightweight frame beautifully. Note: Pairs well with #12 on this list.
08. Lil Peep—Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2
Lil Peep was born of the SoundCloud generation. He was the type of artist revered by hordes of high school kids but cast aside by much of the music world as a whole. Towards the end of his life, however, his (incredibly young) career had started to come around. It was hard not to feel like he was destined for bigger stages. Suddenly, it was over.
Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 is a posthumous release, carefully pieced together by friends and family in the wake of the 21 year old’s death. Its 44 minutes are those of torment and triumph. Given his short career, it’s fair to wonder how deep his catalog runs. It’s a shame this may be the last we hear of an artist with a knack for music that’s both catchy and affecting.
07. Mac Miller—Swimming
Swimming isn’t technically a posthumous album, as it was released prior to Mac Miller’s sudden death in September, but the subject matter makes it feel that way sometimes. Fitting for its title, there’s a desperate undercurrent here. “Puttin’ way too much on my shoulders, please hold me down,” begs Miller on the opening track. The album is stained with lines like these, tragically mixed in with hope for better days Miller wouldn’t make it to see.
After starting his career in a place I had no interest in or respect for, Mac has spent the last five years blossoming as an artist. He was exceedingly thoughtful, wholly dedicated to his art, and wildly respected by all that knew him. Swimming isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn good, and it wasn’t supposed to be the end of his creative output. It’s heartbreaking his personal demons claimed him before he had a chance to show the world more of what he had to offer.
06. Runaway Brother—New Pocket
In case you felt Runaway Brother’s ambitious first release, Mother, wasn’t quite enough, they decided to up the ante on New Pocket. The songwriting is more precise and intricate and the compositions are more adventurous.
The album’s opener features a full-blown lounge music section, “Conscience in Tumult” boasts a warm violin solo, and “Paws” shouts “Rip it, Chuck!” before guitarist and keyboardist Charlie Gunn falls into one of the year’s more anthemic solos. “No Fuzz” and “Cats in the Sun” are downright beachy and “All Saints Day” packs an entire album’s worth of flourishes.
This new pocket suits them well.
05. Jeff Rosenstock—POST-
“Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected. Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted,” opens POST-. It’s hard to see “USA,” and frankly the album as a whole, as anything but a heaping dose of POST-election anxiety in what we all can agree is one of the more frustrating and disappointing eras of global politics in decades.
For an album that seeks to pick up the pieces of the aftermath, what better title? It even provides a hyphen, allowing listeners to fill in their own word to complete the compound adjective.
“So where can you go when the troubles inside you make your limbs feel like they’re covered in lead? How can you solve all the problems around you when you can’t even solve the ones in your head?”
Rosenstock excels at anxious music, and this was before the world heaped plenty external forces upon him. As a result, the album sees the band belting home runs thrown in their sweet spot before eventually growing weary. The exhausted tone is what makes songs like “9/10” stand out so well. “Nine times out of ten I’ll be stoned on the subway, reading backlit directives of what I should do,” sings Rosenstock. “Dodging eye contact with anyone who looks my way. Nine times out of ten I’ll be thinking of you.” It’s a bit of optimistic solace in a sea of calamity.
The album does reach a resolution on its final track, “Let Them Win.”
“They'll sic us on each other to displace our power, but it won’t happen again.” At the end of the day, the album finds hope in a healthy place: empathy and understanding for each other.
04. Kanye West & Kid Cudi—Kids See Ghosts
At the time of its release, perhaps nothing sounded less appetizing than these two running wild on an album. Cudi lost grip of reality so long ago that he actually had a chance to come back. Kanye only recently followed him there. Frankly, I’m surprised I even gave Kids See Ghosts a fair chance in the first place.
Of the opening trio (Pusha T-Kanye-Kids See Ghosts) of the five Wyoming sessions projects, Pusha T had undoubtedly the strongest release. The most interesting, however, was easily Kids See Ghosts, and I did not see that coming.
I was wrong about them, and about this album. It’s good, and better than it has any right to be on paper. Kanye and Cudi have always had a strong artistic connection. Kanye put Cudi on the map in 2008 with several guest spots on 808s & Heartbreak before signing him to his GOOD Music Label. The fact that the pair still have harmony after all these years was the pleasant surprise Kanye fans needed in a lackluster 2018.
This year’s Kanye felt less focused and less coherent than ever, but something about this project brought him back down to earth. The concepts of broken relationships and mental health struggles are clear, and the sonic game plan is exotic but well-executed. Not that one poor solo album would have me writing off the rest of West’s career, but seeing him excel in spurts is reassuring at a time when little else is.
Now we just need to see him bring this precision to his own work.
03. Pusha T—Daytona
The crowning achievement of Kanye’s largely lackluster Wyoming sessions is Pusha T’s Daytona. I don’t know if we’re transitioning back into an era where Kanye is better suited behind the boards rather than in front of the mic, but anyone wanting to argue that side has their evidence here. This is the most well-produced Pusha T effort since Pharrell set him up way back in the days of The Clipse. The pair manage to cram 60 minutes of grittiness into barely more than an EP—seven tracks of Benihana-type coordinated chaos.
From the moment the beat drops (or maybe crashes) on “If You Know You Know,” the songwriting rarely lets up. This is what Pusha T does. It’s what he’s always done.
He’s back with the boasts (“Play amongst the stars like the roof in the Wraith; get the table next to mine, make our bottle servers race”) and the threats (“I'm backin' this hit, you ever seen Shark Tank?”).
That’s not to say there isn’t real emotional depth here. After all, this contrast between vulnerability and braggadocio is what made artists like Tupac and Biggie great, and Pusha has always wielded the same sword. On “Santeria” he speaks to a deceased friend. On “Hard Piano” he laments the anxieties of both his past and current lives. He explores temptation on “What Would Meek Do?” and industry imposters on “Infrared.”
There’s just 21 minutes, however, so no excess time is wasted with introspection. There’s gotta be room for him to rhyme “drop dollars” with “Rottweilers” with “Glock Hollers.” This is Pusha T, after all.
02. Mom Jeans—Puppy Love
The first Mom Jeans song I ever heard was “Edward 40hands.” The title is a reference to a drinking game and the song opens with a clip from Bob’s Burgers, referencing—you guessed it—mom jeans. The song goes on to describe a relationship. First, the good times: “I’m stuck on you like the smell of cigarettes on your flower dress.” Then, the loss: “Now I’m addicted to cigarettes ... every burn hole smells like home.” It’s a nuanced way to describe the way the last remaining fragments of shattered relationships are the (sometimes nasty) artifacts they leave behind. It’s right there, hidden behind the wisecracks and cartoons.
The band’s sophomore studio album, Puppy Love, is the evolution. The sound has matured, but the antics remain. With it feels like a sense of exhaustion. They’ve cut much of the nuance, and wax poetic on the frustrations and wonderment that the band and their peers experience. There’s the struggle with identity: “Tried eating vegan but I’m a fraud.” The struggle with relationships growing apart: “I'm not usually one to judge a book by whats on the outside, but your face looks different every time you leave.” Lost love: “Tried reading a new book. Its hard not to look, but I can't help from wondering what you're up to now.” Unrequited love: “Well, I think that you're just building up a wall to try and protect yourself from the fact that I'm going to spend the rest of my dumb f——-g life loving you.” And found love: “Nobody else knows me the way that you do. Nobody’s ever been this good to me, not even myself.”
It’s right there, hidden behind the weed, Cheetos, and references to The Office.
01. Foxing—Nearer My God
I saved my Albums of the Year list for last because I wanted as much time as possible to settle the rankings. Sure enough, this probably changed four times in the last two weeks. Daytona is fiery, but its short run-time prohibited too many repeat listens. There just wasn’t enough to latch onto. It’s nearly an EP. Puppy Love is great, and it’s the album I listened to the most in 2018, but I can’t shake the fact that it will likely age quicker than the rest of the top three. I listened to it dozens of times this year, but I don’t see myself doing the same next year, much less in three years.
Foxing’s Nearer My God is probably my second most played album, yet my appreciation for it has only grown with time and it only draws me back more and more as the year has gone on. Its edged itself up to #1, and I feel like I’ve made these lists enough to know that it will likely feel like the right choice when I look back in three years.
It’s my favorite album of 2018.
Until very recently, Foxing is a band I’d have described as “quaint.” Their most popular songs—offerings like “The Medic,” “Rory,” and “Night Channels”—largely inch along, finding emotion in muted melodies rather than at the top of their lungs. Nearer My God flips it all on its head. Suddenly the band is cramming much of the same subject matter into music designed to fill NBA arenas. It’s something like if Death Cab For Cutie turned into The Killers.
They’re not just cranking up the volume, though. This thing is meticulously crafted and seamlessly woven together. There are synths and bagpipes; pitch-shifted vocals and oceans of reverb. The band wrote the title song about the shameless desire to be famous, a place they admitted they hoped the last record might take them. They seem to have washed themselves of that desire on Nearer My God, becoming content with sub-genre success and the creative freedom that can bring. Ironically, in doing so they may have progressed in style and ambition enough to resemble the kind of mainstream indie rock band we haven’t seen in years. I don’t see them on the cover of Rolling Stone any time soon, but that doesn’t mean they’d be out of place there.
Credit to the band for having the audacity to take their inner thoughts and worries and use them to rattle the dust off the rafters.