Music
Tune in and turn up
Getty Images / Tim Mosenfelder

We got hit with several instant classics last year, but it seems that 2018 isn’t playing around either when it comes to dropping excellent albums. Just halfway through, we’ve received fantastic works encompassing a full spectrum of genre, from the minimalist, industrialized rap of Pusha-T’s DAYTONA to the smooth, humid soul of Jorja Smith’s Lost & Found to the inviting pop-trap hybrids of Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy.

There’s been extreme genre-switches and reinventions, and there’s been polished refinements; breathless changes of pace and quiet, renewals of focus. The only thing that is consistent among our 15 favorites of the year so far is pure, unbridled quality.

And so here’s what made the cut: these are the Best Albums of 2018 so far.

A$AP Rocky – ‘TESTING’

Somewhat surprisingly, A$AP Rocky’s third album proper truly divided both fans and critics alike. We stand firmly on the side of those that paint Flacko’s latest as a masterpiece, certainly his strongest showing since his king-making debut mixtape. True to its title, TESTING pits such disparate elements as glitchy, futurist trap, angsty, alt-rock guitar, and go-for-broke flute rap (not to mention a guest list varied enough to comfortably manage FKA twigs, Dev Hynes, Frank Ocean, and Skepta) and effortlessly ties it all together in a very signature Rocky bow.

Read our review.

Beach House – ‘7’

Music is a tricky business (a severe understatement if there ever was one, but we digress); to succeed, an artist must learn to evolve and reflect the current sonic-scape without straying too far from what made people love them in the first place. No band this decade, or perhaps even millennium, has walked this fine line with as much as grace and ease as Beach House. Their monolithic seventh album is their most radical break from form yet, and it still manages to preserve every quality they’ve exuded since they first swept in on a fog of mystery over a decade ago.

Read our review.

Cardi B – ‘Invasion of Privacy’

After turning 2017 into her own personal Cinderella story, you could say that expectations were pretty high for Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, an album first promised nearly a year before its eventual arrival. And hot damn, if she didn’t deliver. “Get Up 10” is lowkey one of the most important rap tracks of the decade – a classic origin story told with bars of true profundity – while not even the reemergence of the world-conquering “Bodak Yellow” and the tongue-twister turn-up “Bartier Cardi” after months in the public conscious manage to slow this stunner of a debut down.

Read our review.

cupcakKe – ‘Ephorize’

On the strength of “Cartoons” alone, Ephorize would rank among the most impressive, innovative projects of the year. But cupcakKe’s phenomenal full-length has 14 more where that came from, delivering a high-octane, X-rated thrill ride that barely lets you catch your breath. Showcasing her rapid-fire flows and hysterical lyrics (“Give ’em Smurf dick, that’s balls blue”) with absolutely manic, bonkers beats, Ephorize is the year’s most terrifyingly intense sugar rush.

Janelle Monáe – ‘Dirty Computer’

The entire discography of Janelle Monáe has been a cinematic journey through the life, times, and sexual awakening of a feminine android in a dystopian future. Dirty Computer is the apex of this voyage of self-discovery, one that happens to coincide with her real life embrace and support of fluidity in all its forms. Its release makes good on the promise of the notion that she is our generation’s answer to Prince, herself a protégé of the Purple One before his passing (though his unmistakable personal flourishes are still heard on such standouts as the electric “Make Me Feel”).

Read our review.

Jorja Smith – ‘Lost & Found’

Over a year of hype and high-profile appearances on Drake and Kendrick projects did nothing to deter the arrival of Jorja Smith’s debut – Lost & Found immediately proves what her collaborators have known all along: this girl’s a star. The opening title track conjures tropical escapes while songs like “Teenage Fantasy” keeps things grounded and personal, all of it held together by the entrancing, easy-going confidence of Jorja’s voice.

Read our review.

Kali Uchis – ‘Isolation’

The familiar name who’s appeared on records like Gorillaz’ Humanz and Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy (and Cherry Bomb too) has come into her own, and what glorious results. Kali Uchis has delivered her first forceful statement of purpose; Isolation showcases an artist with both a rich, sumptuous voice and a natural ear for true funk. Fellow experts like The Internet’s Steve Lacy, Damon Albarn and the legend himself – Bootsy Collins – are all on hand to indulge Uchis’ incredible proclivity for delivering the groove.

Read our review.

Kendrick Lamar / Top Dawg Entertainment – ‘Black Panther: The Album’

Black Panther is every bit the earth-shattering celebration of black pride this world needed, and the choice to enlist Kendrick Lamar to curate a soundtrack for and inspired by the record-breaking film could not have been more ideal. Enlisting a jaw-dropping crew of collaborators and orchestrating the entire enterprise on the strength of his massive pop hooks, Lamar has notched yet another win this year.

Read our review.

KIDS SEE GHOSTS – ‘KIDS SEE GHOSTS’

In Kanye West’s darkest hour (public acceptance-wise at least), his saving grace came in the form of one of his oldest friends. Kid Cudi has long been a placeholder in West’s stable of featured guest artists, but here, he finally honors him with a project not just worthy of his talents, but a natural enhancer of them. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a crystalline distillation of both artists’ most vulnerable elements – thrust together, it only serves to make them stronger.

Read our review.

Lykke Li – ‘so sad so sexy’

Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li went from making Lynchian-Americana alt-pop to straight up trap-inflected club bangers, a hard left turn if there ever was one. The results could not have turned out better – so sad so sexy is a deliciously dark summer treat; a proper club record for our paranoiac, anxiety-riddled times. With its chorus of swimming pools home to salty chlorine kisses, “deep end” is custom made for you to have amazing outdoor sex to, while the sadder portion promised in the album’s title is evoked on piercing heartbreak ballads like “last piece”.

Read our review.

Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Age Of’

Definitely the only album you’re likely to hear this year that opens with a harpsichord breakdown, Age Of is everything we’ve come to expect from electronic wizard Oneohtrix Point Never, and yet it’s filled with a great deal more. The producer and composer’s latest full-length introduces Baroque classicism to his unpredictable, organic soundscape, a particularly striking addition next to the skeletal neo-soul vocal works like “Black Snow” – a reunion with powerhouse vocalist ANOHNI that produces goosebumps.

Playboi Carti – ‘Die Lit’

Every artist is unique of course, but really now, think hard: has there ever been a rapper like Playboi Carti? Not only has the SoundCloud wunderkind ascended to the heights of the game on such an unattainable sonic palette that he didn’t need to tinker his sound in the slightest for his studio debut Die Lit, but the kid has called into question our understanding of the English language itself and its use in the medium of rap. This is not a read; Carti is on some next-level transcending the human voice and morphing it into the fabric of the beat shit.

Read our review.

Pusha-T – ‘DAYTONA’

It’s safe to say that Pusha-T’s DAYTONA obliterated all expectations when it arrived in the first chaotic release of G.O.O.D. Music’s true cruel summer. Many were anticipating innovative production, expertly-delivered raps, and a general polish; and we got all of that. But we also received an album that exudes a sense of ‘legacy’ that was apparent even on the first listen. Pusha-T has had a long, storied life and career – this is the undeniable crowning achievement of both.

Read our review.

Ssion – ‘O’

O is the moment where Ssion and the mainstream (or at least, er, the niche, very hip part of the mainstream) meet in the middle; the theater geek from high school having his big moment of transcendent acceptance. Long on his grind in the underground art-pop world, the absurdly-gifted polymath has made the most indulgent, inviting full-length of his illustrious career – a space where Ariel Pink duets about “Diet Coke and ketamine” live comfortably beside neon-streaked electro-synth and grunge-tastic spins on Cyndi Lauper.

Read our review.

The Weeknd – ‘My Dear Melancholy,’

The Weeknd trimmed the fat of his recent, bloated studio efforts and returned with a lean, mean, utterly heart-broken suite of his best-produced material in years. Linking up with the likes of Gessafelstein and Nicolas Jaar and reuniting with Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, My Dear Melancholy, reaps undeniably rich rewards from his torrid love life. Those that missed ‘the old Weeknd’ will find they got what they wished for.

Read our review.

If you haven’t already, check out our list of the best songs of the year so far right here.

Words by Jake Boyer
Music Editor
What To Read Next