In some ways, 2018 felt like the hardest year for music in a long time. There was huge loss — rising stars like Lil Peep, XXXtentacion, and Mac Miller all died way too young and, tragically, from drugs and violence, echoing the darkest moments of our culture on a national scale. Mistakes were made, transgressions came to light, plenty of people were dragged, roasted, and mercilessly mocked online, just for, well, trying to get through the year. That’s where the music comes in, though.
No matter how dreary and depressing things seemed to get this year, an outpouring of undeniable, unstoppable, and downright incredible music just kept rushing through the gates, carrying us all along on the power of a song, or the comfort of an album. In the spirit of music as medicine, here are the 50 albums that helped carry Uproxx Music staffers along in a harrowing year. It feels like creativity was high enough this year that 50 more could easily be on this list, too, but these are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, and the ones that made the final cut.
50. Mac Miller, Swimming
It’s a damn, crying, awful shame that Mac Miller wouldn’t see the outpouring of love and affirmation he’s received in the wake of his death — almost as much as it is one that all that love seemed to have been reserved for his passing and not the album he left behind. Swimming, simply put, was Mac’s best work. It’s his lightest since KIDS, unweighted by the the melancholy he experienced as his career took off and left him feeling more and more isolated. It’s the most musically adventurous since, yes, his last album, The Divine Feminine, without the baggage attached to the nagging questions of inspiration that album brought with it.
Swimming is Mac, for lack of a better term, in the flow of things. He hadn’t figured everything out yet, but he had figured it that he didn’t have to. Assembling a squad of producers and musicians with Dev Hynes, DJ Dahi, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, Mac laid down lush, luxurious soundbeds for his rambling, stream-of-consciousness raps to wind and wrap around and through on tracks like “Self Care,” “Ladders,” and “Conversation, Pt. 1.” With all that, the true tragedy of the loss of Mac Miller, however cliche it may sound, is that he was just getting started — and getting better all the time.–Aaron Williams
49. Tirzah, Devotion
Tirzah’s Devotion is “a slurry meditation on love and loneliness, as moody as wallpaper in Twin Peaks.” The genre-bending album expertly fuses R&B and electronic beats overlaid by Tirzah’s piercing lyrics, and culminates into a melancholic tracklist of musings on love, both wholesome and wretched. The record is produced by longtime collaborator Mica Levi, and the two make an inimitable match, as its tottering instrumentalism provides a flawless backdrop for Tirzah’s songwriting. It’s obvious that she’s the patron saint of earnestness and unwavering loyalty, even when it’s unreciprocated – especially when it’s unreciprocated – and that rarity instantly makes Devotion a treasure.–Leah Lu
48. Kyle, Light Of Mine
On his cheerful major label debut album, Kyle is happily stuck somewhere in the middle between the awkward nerd and the suave rake, figuring out which aspects of each identity suit him best, and determining to use his own struggle as a beacon to anyone else who feels the same way. Maybe that’s why he borrowed the album title, Light Of Mine, from the folk gospel song that encourages its adherents to do just that — shine for the world, regardless of imperfection, in the hopes of leading the way to a brighter tomorrow.
That theme of “it all gets better” is easy to knock, but Kyle lives for that sort of thing. When he sings, “2016 hit me like a bag of bricks / 2017 switched up like ‘Ooh, it’s lit,” there’s probably not a soul on earth who can’t relate from at least some point in their lives. He sings about fumbling your way through love on “Playinwitme” and “Babies,” swerving between soaring confidence and optimism on “To The Moon” and shaky insecurity on “ShipTrip” and “iMissMe.” And in these moments, it’s one of the most honest and uplifting rap albums of the year. Kyle puts it all on the line: Who he was, who he is, and who he’s hoping we can all eventually be.–A.W.
47. Dilly Dally, Heaven
Ever since Toronto stoner-punks Dilly Dally burst onto the scene in 2015 with the seething, screeching vocals of frontwoman Katie Monks on their debut album Sore, they’ve been turning heads in the rock world. The contrast between Monks’ inescapable wailing and guitarist Liz Ball’s classic guitar riffs made them a welcome addition to a still-thriving pocket of rock devotees and fans. But it was only recently that it became clear just how challenging the four-piece found touring to be.
In our profile on the band, Monks admitted there was a point where it looked like Sore was going to be their sole album. The grind of being a unit, of creating together, of living on the road — all of that took its toll. Fortunately for everyone involved, they got the band back together, and created the stormy, discordant, and deeply satisfying Heaven, a follow-up that is indeed fit for the pearly gates themselves. Full of catharsis, pain, joy, and blissed out, edge-of-existence guitar work, Heaven is a record that both raises their profile, and stands as a testament of how impactful battling to stay together against the odds can be.–Caitlin White
46. Kamasi Washington, Heaven And Earth
There’s a limited amount of bandwidth afforded to contemporary jazz music in the indie landscape, so it’s really saying something that Kamasi Washington has managed to stand out as one of the modern jazzmen that mainstream music fans pay attention to (although his association with Kendrick Lamar certainly helps). This doesn’t mean that the Los Angeles saxophonist is making music that’s inherently accessible: Jazz is often hard to approach as a casual fan, but Washington holds the door open for everybody with some grooves you can bob your head to and solos you can appreciate. Beyond that, though, there’s an absolute ton going on. To the jazz-ignorant (such as myself, admittedly), the genre can often come across as aimless or meandering, but on Heaven And Earth, it never feels like Washington is wasting time, or like he’s moving without purpose. Every sound is directed in a forward-facing motion, in all the myriad moods, emotions, and ideas he explores on his immense sophomore album.–Derrick Rossignol
45. Metric, Art Of Doubt
Emily Haines has been in the business of misery for over twenty years, carefully sharpening all her personal gloom into sheer, searing rock songs that cut to the quick like no other — in large part, because they’re coming from a woman. The longevity of her band, Metric, hasn’t halted the Canadian rock quartet from undergoing a kind of metamorphosis on nearly ever album, and their latest, Art Of Doubt, is no different. This record restores Metric to their early glory, rivaling their 2009 hit record Fantasies in scope and accessibility; it’s a collection of songs about power, loss of control, grief, agony, and restoration.
And Haines’ crystalline alto never warps under the pressure of these intensive emotions, twisting instead, into something wise and fierce as the record unfolds. The group cites moving band member James Shaw out of his role as de facto producer and bringing in Justin Meldal-Johnsen for production duties as a major shift that helped restore melodic synergy, and that’s apparent all over the album. It holds together exactly like a record should, not a trace of doubt, even when the lyrics question everything on the planet — including the misery they contain. —C.W.
44. Interpol, Marauder
For 16 years, we’ve all known what to expect from Interpol, and the band’s latest album Marauder doesn’t radically diverge from that template. They’re still writing dark-hued post-punk songs with sneaky-funny absurdist lyrics. They’re still running at either a fast mid-tempo or a slow mid-tempo. They still wear incredible suits. But what’s impressive this time around is how much fun these guys — still a trio, because why bother replacing Carlos D? — still seem to have at finding new ways to explore the surprisingly resplendent contours of mopey goth-dude pop-rock.
This is, in a sense, a back-to-basics record: While Interpol is known for making pristine-sounding albums at a deliberate pace, Marauder was recorded live to tape, capturing the band at its rawest and sweatiest. (Relatively speaking, of course — those suits remain immaculate.) This feistiness provides a welcome edge to the ringing guitar and monotone vocals that are endemic to Interpol songs, underscoring the secret to the band’s enduring success — their vibrant, in-concert energy. Oh, and Marauder wouldn’t be a standout late-period Interpol album without some off-the-wall (and highly quotable) lyrics. (From “Party’s Over”: “Rock n’ roll b*tch I’m into it / I like to show you my stuff / Baby cheetahs the Himalayas / What’s got you startled umbilical.”)–Steven Hyden
43. Drake, Scorpion
I don’t know if “Drake fatigue” is a real thing, especially given the enduring, inescapable catchiness of “In My Feelings,” with its accompanying viral dance challenge and hilariously convoluted conspiracy theories. And, I might be a little more optimistic on that front than most, seeing subtle hints of creative growth on his mega-sized double album, Scorpion. After all, his empowerment anthems like “Nice For What” and “God’s Plan” were accompanied by suitably reflective, uplifting music videos courtesy of rookie video director Karena Evans. He spoke to his son on the introspective “March 14,” which turned out to be as personal a risk as creative. And in the album’s lighter moments, he seemed like he might finally be enjoying the trappings of fame, shedding the “suffering from success” demeanor of his Take Care album cover. Scorpion had some of the biggest moments of Drake’s career, and after a decade in the game — and almost half that time at the top — it’s impressive to think that, like the fine wines he’s so enamored with drinking, he’s still getting better with age.–A.W.
42. Charlie Puth, Voicenotes
Has anyone pulled off as epic of a rebranding in 2018 as Charlie Puth? Prior to this year, the “See You Again” singer made headlines for the ridiculous quotes he gave journalists (“I’m hungies!”) and his romantic exploits (Bella Thorne and Selena Gomez, though Selena tells a different story). But this year, Puth proved he’s “hungies” for more than just tabloid attention.
Voicenotes is a runaway critical smash. From the synths on “LA Girls” to the snaking bassline of “Attention,” every song on the album is immaculately crafted. Though Puth dips in and out of about a million genres — he has features from Boyz II Men and James Taylor, another “See You Again”-style weepie, and some yacht rock bangers — the album is also cohesive as a whole. Listening to Voicenotes, you get the impression that Puth is more confident than ever in who he is as an artist. For anyone who is still too distracted by Puth’s public image to open yourself up to his earworm bops, the man has some words for you: “You could either hate me or love me / But that’s just the way I am.”–Chloe Gilke
41. Lucy Dacus, Historian
The first time I heard the title track on Lucy Dacus’ Historian, I remember thinking lovingly about one of my closest friends, and then thinking about how lucky I felt to have someone in my life that came immediately to mind. “I’ll be your historian and you’ll be mine,” Dacus sings, over crescendoing synths. “And I’ll fill pages of scribbled ink, hoping the words carry meaning.”
Historian has been out since March, which feels like a number of eternities ago, but each song still rings just as poignant. Dacus doesn’t spend much time here pining over fleeting romances, perhaps because she knows that she doesn’t have much time to spend at all. Listening through the album feels like flipping through Dacus’ old journals, witnessing her experience moments of extreme rage to utter triumph to cutting pain. The record reminds us that really, all we have are our memories and what we make of them, and so we might as well write our own histories.–Leah Lu