Streaming Consciously: Top 18 Albums of 2018
It’s that time of year again, my friends.
What, you thought we were gonna leave yoūse hanging, on our way outta 2018?
It’s been an admittedly sporadic year for Wudder content, but that would just be mean.
So without further ado, let’s get into Streaming Consciously’s Top 18 Albums of 2018.
#18 Anderson Paak-Oxnard
I wanted to love this album so much more than I actually do.
When we last left Anderson .Paak, he was The Wudder’s 20SickDream MVP, netting two albums inside the Top 10 during that calendar year.
The watershed moment, Malibu, was arguably the year’s best in stacked class.
His live show remains a growing legend.
Who else in music history can claim to be a top-tier rapper/singer AND drummer/bandleader?
But something is missing here.
Oxnard lacks prior outings’ heart, looseness, or earthy authenticity.
The end result feels like the most forced Dre-helmed album since Xhibit’s Restless LP.
Ironically, a kid from an agriculture-rich coastal California city waited until the hometown and final chapter in his “beach cities” trilogy (first Venice, then Malibu) to sink into L.A. polish and paranoia.
This is the big, glossy blockbuster follow-up to a breakthrough, from an artist whose gifts don’t seemed best served this way.
Meanwhile, forgive me for saying this but *ducks tomatoes* I’m not sure he needs Dre.
At least not with this extra-clean-and-pristine, loudly minimalist mix done via a perfectionist engineer’s ear.
I’d contemplated writing a piece on why Oxnard disappoints, but what’s the point?
And yes, I know, why begin a best list with an album you were underwhelmed by?
Because it’s still Anderson Paak, my guy.
He remains one of the most talented in the game.
And this will probably still get more play than several albums ranked above it.
Lemme just get it outta the way and admit it: I have no real idea what this shit is.
Okay, well, technically I do, in that I’ve listened to it multiple times all the way thru.
BROCKHAMPTON popped up in my Spotify Discover Weekly enough over the past couple years to warrant further investigation.
But this group/band/collective is too damn strange for me to sit here pretending like I fully comprehend who they really are, or what they’re trying to do, at any given time.
And that’s fine.
So, if you’re that person I haven’t met yet, who may one day ask me “what’s your favorite BROCKHAMPTON album?”, I’d say that so far this one is mine.
The album cover with the Predator-thermal-vision ultrasound of a pregnant dude.
If anyone asked me who they sound like, I’d say that depends on which album, or actually the song, no strike that, whatever section of a song, happens to be on.
Sometimes they’re doing aggro rap posse cuts over dissonant beats, next thing you know, they’re chirping like Musical Youth or Menudo, occasionally even dipping into some Shai Quiet Storm R&B-sang flow.
I miss large messy musical crews tho, so with the dizzyingly ambitious Iridescence, I suppose I’m just happy that something like this is in existence. I reserve the right to dig this more, or ditch them altogether, whenever their stuff starts to make more sense.
#16 Idles-Joy As An Act of Resistance
This album harnesses its energy on the back of righteous indignation and empathy.
A ragingly British punk-rock bash against Brexit, European Ethno-Nationalism, Corporate Greed and Bourgeois Suburban Norms, while utilizing said rage and self-medication to address self-loathing, Bristol’s Idles, led by charismatic front-man Billy Talbot sound like what I wish most rock and roll could still be.
They’re supposedly big across the pond, but their presence hasn’t been felt at nearly the same level over here. But then again, where does a rock & roll band go in 2018 America to penetrate the culture? I don’t have the answer to that, bruh.
But I do know this album goes hard.
You can tell that even by just scouring the song titles on the track list: “Colossus”, “Never Fight a Man With a Perm”, I’m Scum, “Gram Rock”, “Rottweiler”.
I haven’t been that drawn in by a list of songs, before ever hearing them, since I gazed at the tracks listed on the back of The Stooges’ Raw Power.
Not to mention, there’s a cover of Philadelphia Soul Legend Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” that would have gotten Idles fired from auditioning for The Commitments, but shows the power a standard can have when re-imagined in punk-rock hands, in the most fun way since Sid Vicious trampled “My Way”.
#15 Cardi B-Invasion of Privacy
What more can be said about Cardi B that you can’t get just by checking trending topics?
One, is that beyond the noise, Cardi surprised this author by putting out a legitimately strong album that trumped the efforts by 2018’s most prominent rap dudes (Drake, Kanye, Eminem, Offset & Dem, etc.).
There’s a kitchen-sink-marketing-addressing-every-demographic aspect to its construction, but it’s carefully curated by Atlantic (wisely recognizing they had a star that was more than a future-one-hit-wonder after “Bodak Yellow”) and Cardi herself, hyper-aware of her authentic lane and artistic strengths.
She runs another lap with “I Like It Like That” (now in at least its third undeniable incarnation). “Bickenhead” provides a perfect female flip of Project Pat. “Be Careful” finds a now-pregnant Cardi channeling her inner Lauryn Hill. “Get Up 10” features some of the more memorable opening bars of a rap debut:
Look, they gave a bitch two options: strippin' or lose
Used to dance in a club right across from my school
I said "dance" not "fuck", don't get it confused
Had to set the record straight 'cause bitches love to assume
On paper, most of it might have felt like unnecessary risks, or overarching ambition for a former-Bronx-dancer-turned-reality-show-rapper, with one solo mix-tape hit.
Invasion of Privacy’s weakest moments (“Bartier Cardi”, “Drip”) are the ones we see coming.
The rest shows us why Cardi B will be staying.
#14 The Breeders-All Nerve
It’s great to hear Kim and Kelly Deal back with the OG Last Splash crew for their first new music in 25 years. Rather than try to do too much, the band, following some well received reunion shows a few years back, got in the studio with legendary alt-rock “reducer” engineer Steve Albini, and cut 11 bangers, averaging about 3 minutes a piece. The whole album is over before you know it, but when you’re in the mood for a fuzzy rock fix, you’ll probably wanna run it back.
This criminally underrated cloak-donning duo are back with more pure, uncut dope.
From a production standpoint, AAAAGGGHH is the best New York tribute to Death Row-era Dr Dre since Masta Ace Incorporated’s Sittin’ On Chrome.
And the lead single, “Slay Bellz”, makes the best use of sleigh bells in song since OutKast cut “Player’s Ball” for A LaFace Family Christmas twenty-five years ago.
Long Live the Cloak.
#12 The Carters-Everything is Love
Don’t get it twisted, this album is exactly what you think it is,
Post-4:44/Lemonade a united-front Superpower-Couple Carter Clan, needing a placeholder heading into stadiums this summer for their On The Run II tour, a jaunt that some members of the Beyhive weren’t initially overjoyed about, mostly due to the presence of the publicly outed philandering husband, H-O-V.
I’m sure this album was released in June not because it was done, but because it was due.
That being said, this is still Jay & Bey.
All over Everything Is Love, the prodigious talent possessed by this pair is plain to see.
There may not be a true “money cut”, to borrow a term from my man Maxx.
But there’s no skippers either, let alone any Bey-Z embarrassments like “Bonnie & Clyde ‘03” or “Hollywood”.
History might be good to this album.
A recent re-run thru the album showed it was picking up, rather than losing, steam.
While even just off the Louvre video shoot + Beyoncé displaying an ability to rap?
Life is but a dream….
#11 Courtney Barnett-Tell Me How You Really Feel
I feel like Courtney Barnett may be my current favorite female rock singer-songwriter going, at least until PJ Harvey rebounds, or Fiona Apple resurfaces from hibernation.
While I appreciated her casual collabo with Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice (#9 in 2017), especially “Over Everything” and “Continental Breakfast”, Barnett digs deeper here, and delivers at a level rivaling her best.
#10 Nipsey Hussle-Victory Lap
Nipsey Hussle set the tone for 2018 by releasing its first great album, Victory Lap.
That album also happened to be his first great album, in a decade-long career.
And Nip begins Victory Lap with an opening salvo, “Victory Lap”, that feels like his version of Hov’s “Dynasty Intro”.
There’s also the undeniable YG/Nipsey collab, complete with Ric Flair-“Woo!”, of “Last Time That I Checc’d”, the first from this pair since “F.D.T.” in Summer of 20SickDream earned their record label a visit from the feds.
At 65 minutes, the final leg flirts with running a victory lap too long.
But whether running a lap, or delivering a slap, 2018 became a bellwether year, in which the world beyond Nip’s core fanbase would feel his impact.
#9 Kamasi Washington-Heaven and Earth
If you’re a true jazz head, like my brother-in-law, Kamasi Washington’s post-The Epic-but-still-epic-length Heaven and Earth might feel a bit reductive or repetitive.
But I’m not deep enough in the game with jazz as a genre, especially in this day and age, to really feel that way. The Sega Street Fighter-meets-Kung-Fu-Theater merged with Black Panther vibe of this ride suits me fine. While I can listen to Kamasi, for my money the best new sax artist in decades, anytime.
#8 Kendrick Lamar-Black Panther
Kendrick has been on this list every year in The Wudder’s existence, taking the top two slots in 2017, the #8 slot in 20SickDream, and before this site went live notching the #3 album of 2015 and #1 album of 2012.
Point Blank: Kendrick Lamar is the greatest artist to debut in this millennium, and rapidly ascending the hip-hop GOAT lists into some very select company.
Fresh off DAMN., Lamar continues to check off more boxes in his Hall of Fame career. This time around he’s coming for the executive-producer crown, while curating a star-studded Black Panther soundtrack.
The list of A-list acts and rising stars involved is long, but Lamar’s touches remain all over it throughout. His voice is the sole constant from start to finish, surfacing on background vocals for any song he didn’t provide verses or hooks. “Kendrick Lamar Duckworth” appears in the writing credits of every track.
With the guidance of a great artist, currently in the pocket of cultural zeitgeist, Black Panther multiplies to make a satisfying sum of its disparate parts.
#7 Earl Sweatshirt-Some Rap Songs
Earl Sweatshirt doesn’t give a fuck.
Earl Sweatshirt cares way too much.
Earl’s last album was entitled I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside.
After a nearly four-year hiatus, he casually dropped a 25-minute album at midnight on the last Friday of November, containing fourteen tracks with lengths akin to early eighties LA punk albums (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, The Minutemen).
Having just stepped out of a show at the Fillmore in Philly, headlined by another Odd Future alum Syd the Kid and The Internet, with Moonchild opening, it was the perfect present to unwrap when queuing up Spotify before a home-bound ride.
In a turbulent year that began with the 24-year-old rapper born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile losing his father, South African Poet Laurette Keorapetse Kgositsile on January 3rd, then his uncle Hugh “Father of South African Jazz” Masekela three weeks later, then close friend/mentor Mac Miller this Fall, this EP-length album’s transmissions feel like Earl’s way of coping while carrying on tradition.
The album cover hints at what you hear here.
Sometimes Earl’s monotone delivery is slightly submerged in the mix.
While his dense poetics can initially be tough to follow from start to finish.
But if you’re a fan, as I am, you’ll stick with it, and eventually the title of Some Rap Songs becomes sublime understatement.
#6 Christina Aguilera-Liberation
We will be fleshing (no pun intended) out the backstory of our Aguilera agenda in an upcoming Wudder piece, so stayed tuned for that in early 2019.
For now, we’ll point out Christina created the best album of her career in 2018, which somehow resulted in relative crickets, particularly by past standards of popularity.
That’s a shame. Hopefully Liberation goes on to have a long shelf life, because it sounds like the album she wanted to make, without suffering from what hindered some past projects, which is quite simply Christina doing too much, and/or trying too hard.
The collaborators here (GoldLink, Anderson .Paak, MNEK, Hudson Mohawke) are more a who-am-I-feeling-who-will-share-my-vision than a who’s who.
The end result is an album that as Aguilera reaches the twenty-year-mark of her career, becomes arguably her best album, and also one of the best of this year.
#5 Jay Rock-Redemption
Johnny “Jay Rock” McKinzie is the oldest and first MC of LA’s Black Hippy/TDE quadrumvirate (along with Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul) to be signed to a major-label nearly a decade ago.
But like an older brother who takes the lumps and makes the mistakes that teach his younger brethren what not to do, things didn’t go as planned.
Kendrick Lamar went on to make the big splash first, with Lamar reaching back to Rock for a scene-stealing verse on “Money Trees” off Kendrick’s classic debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.
Rock instead laid back in the cut by comparison, releasing solid albums, continuing to put in feature work, but never releasing an album that truly stood among the cream of TDE’s crop (Q’s last two, SZA’s debut, any of Lamar’s projects) until this year, riding a wave brought forth by “King’s Dead” off Black Panther, into the cresting tide of personal resilience that is Redemption.
No longer “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, with the casual coldness required to pull off barber-chair bars in “King’s Dead”, Johnny McKinzie is free to link back up with his little-homie-turned-superstar KDot for a “Wow Freestyle”, while telling any remaining doubters to “Knock It Off”.
Redemption is a “Win”, by any measurement.
#4 Kali Uchis-Isolation
Kali Uchis first appeared in The Wudder back in the Spring, with her Bootsy-Collins-and-Tyler-the-Creator-assisted funk jam “After the Storm” becoming an anthem lasting for the rest of this year and beyond.
This is the Columbia-American, DC-suburb-born and LA-based Uchis’ debut album, after first appearing alongside Snoop Dogg four years ago, then becoming a collaborator and supporting touring artist with many other notables (Diplo, Katrynada, BadBadNotGood, Leon Bridges).
On the somewhat-ironically titled Isolation, despite marquee helping hands (Gorillaz, The Internet’s Steve Lacy, Jorja Smith, Reykon, Thundercat, the aforementioned Tyler/Bootzilla), Kali Uchis seizes center stage.
The list of styles she blazes thru, or slinks in and out of, over the course of 46 minutes is enough to make you dizzy. Bossa nova, doo-wop, Bond-style spy music on “Miami”, “Storm”’s funk, the sultry reggaeton of “Nuestro Planeta”, and concluding as if paying tribute to Amy Winehouse by Isolation’s end on “Killer”.
Where does Kali go from here?
Anywhere…and we’ll be there.
#3 The Internet-Hive Mind
Sydney “aka Syd, fka Syd Tha Kid” Bennett makes her third appearance on the list.
Her band The Internet’s Ego Death, snuck in into the Top 15 of ’15 in the 14 slot.
Her 90’s-Brandy-era-R&B-inspired solo debut Fin last year was Lucky 7 in 2017.
Hive Mind is The Internet’s fourth album, and their first since extensively touring the world in 2016 as a five-piece unit. Perhaps even more notably, it’s their first since Syd’s public break-up with the Odd Future Gang with whom she grew up.
The Internet are somehow still pioneering how to sound like an R&B garage band, while being organically grown online. Here’s another heaping helping of “Humble Pie” to stimulate your Dirty Mind.
Perhaps most encouraging is that while Hive Mind elevates and updates their formulas, it’s still very clearly not the band’s final step. What will eventually be the best album by The Internet is the one they haven’t made yet. But in the meantime, let’s consider ourselves blessed, and take what we can get.
#2 Mac Miller-Swimming
Sadly, it’s now impossible to extricate this album from its creator’s passing, only one month after its release. But for anyone, self included, who might have previously given short-shrift to Malcolm “Mac Miller” McCormick’s music, his—and arguably 2018’s—best album is a parting gift, hinting at what could have been, while displaying what we’ll miss. “It is what it is, till it ain’t.”
#1 Tierra Whack-Whack World
This may not even technically be an album, but it certainly is an experience.
Tierra Whack is an early-twentysomething rapper/poet/artist/singer-songwriter/musician born, primarily raised, plus currently based, in Philadelphia.
This is, with the exceptions of a few prior loosies, her debut.
In delivering it, Whack World deftly creates its own universe:
Fifteen songs, each an ear-worm exactly one-minute long, all with their own distinct tone and feel, while genre-hopping from Hip-Hop to Pop, R&B, and even Country.
It almost feels like the pre-streaming era when you’d go to Amazon, or a retail listening booth, to get fed the best snippets of a song, before deciding to buy the album.
But in this case, the snippets are fully realized soul emissions which contain multitudes.
Don’t take each song as purely literal, while Whack mines lyrical territory about seemingly mundane topics (cable channels, missing pets, Chinese takeout).
This is an artist using broad strokes to paint multi-layered, deceptively intricate, art.
Each song gets its own visual treatment, best experienced in succession, in its 15-minute entirety, with Whack as possibly the most natural music video presence we’ve seen since the heyday of Missy.
At a 1968 art exhibition in Stockholm, Sweden, Andy Warhol famously declared "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes”.
Over the following five decades, a pop artist’s pseudo-prophecy continues trending towards profundity.
Particularly in viral-virus-infected times like yours and mine.
Time will tell if that amounts to more a blessing, or a crime.
But 50 years later in 2018, Whack World‘s 15 makes full use of its time.
Honorably Mentioned Eight Is Enough For ‘18:
-Czarface & MF Doom-Czarface Meets Metal Face
-Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever-Hope Downs
-Phonte-No News Is Good News
-Jamison Scott-4 Nights in Prague
Looking Back On Our Top 17 of 2017:
1) Kendrick Lamar-DAMN. (Reverse Order Collector’s Edition)
2) Kendrick Lamar-DAMN.
3) Tyler, the Creator-Flower Boy
8) Triple Nickels-Lightning Wars
9) Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett-Lotta Sea Lice
11) Japandroids-Near to the Wild Heart of Life
12) (tie) Doppelgangaz-Dopp Hopp & The Underachievers-The Renaissance
13) Big Boi-Boomiverse
14) Joan Osborne-Songs of Bob Dylan
15) Valerie June-The Order of Time
16) Chuck Berry-Chuck
17) Spoon-Hot Thoughts
Looking Back On The Sweetest Sixteen Albums of 20SickDream:
1) A Tribe Called Quest-We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
2) Chance The Rapper-Coloring Book
3) David Bowie-Blackstar
4) Anderson .Paak-Malibu
5) YG-Still Brazy
7) Bruno Mars-24K Magic
8) Kendrick Lamar: Untitled, Unmastered
9) NxWorries-Yes Lawd!
10) Schoolboy Q-The Blank Face LP
11) Kanye West-The Life of Pablo
12) Leonard Cohen-You Want It Darker
13) Childish Gambino-“Awaken, My Love”
14) Maren Morris-Hero
15) Lucinda Williams-The Ghost Of Highway 20
16) PJ Harvey-The Hope Six Demolition Project
Looking Back On Our 20 Best Albums Of 2015:
1) D’Angelo-Black Messiah
2) Earl Sweatshirt-I Don’t Go Outside, I Don’t Like Shit
3) Kendrick Lamar-To Pimp A Butterfly
4) Janet Jackson-Unbreakable
5) Snoop Dogg-Bush
6) Kamasi Washington-The Epic
7) Czarface-Every Hero Needs A Villain
8) Thundercat-The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam
9) Dr. Dre-Compton
10) Keith Richards-Crosseyed Heart
11) Jazmine Sullivan-Reality Show
14) The Internet-Ego Death
15) Rae Sremmurd-Sremm Life
16) The Weeknd-Beauty And The Madness
17) Kurt Vile-Believe I’m Going Down
18) Raekwon-Fly International Luxurious Art
19) Vince Staples-Summertime ‘06
20) Best Coast-California Nights