2018 was a wild year for everyone involved. At the beginning of the year, I decided to listen to 300 albums that I never listened to before, both new and old. Within the list of 300 albums are quite a few albums from 2018. Because I set out in the beginning of the year to listen to a variety of music, I wasn’t sure how it’d affect my 2018 list and what I sought out. Interestingly enough, there’s some surprising variety.
10. Dance With The Dead – Loved To Death
Ever since seeing Perturbator live last year, I got hooked on synthwave and dark wave music. Leading this list is one of the larger synth wave groups out there, Dance with the Dead with their summer release of Loved To Death. After listening to B-Sides, I knew they had chops and would definitely hold my attention. What I wasn’t anticipating was how consistent this album would be. The group is a two piece and they do a damn good job of sounding larger than that. Their guitar player, Tony Kim is fantastic and does so well to compliment the rhythms that their producer Justin Pointer makes. Their music is heavily inspired from the 80’s metal gods like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, but also aggressive electronic music as well. It’s a great marriage and tracks like “Red Moon” and “Salem” really exemplify that. This is a record that I toss on when I drive and just lose myself in the guttural riffs, aggressive drums and dancy synths.
9. Carpenter Brut- Leather Teeth
Carpenter Brut was one of the first Synthwave artists I had heard of. I naturally heard him through video game music, specifically the Hotline Miami franchise. His EP compilation album, Trilogy, is one of my played synthwave albums because it is so consistent. When I heard Brut was doing a concept album, I was very excited to see what he did. The album to me, is probably more of a concept for him than it for the audience because I don’t know if there’s any visuals that go along with the full project. That aside, the album is just like Loved To Death in the way that I can toss it on in the car and just drive on the highway. I love “Beware The Beast”, “Cheerleader Effect”. He sets a different feel for this album, less aggressive than Trilogy, but in my opinion, more thoughtful when it came to the song structure.
8. Murs- A Strange Journey Into the Unimaginable
I was put on to MURS when he joined Strange Music. I saw his underground rap background and dug into his back catalog and fell in love fast with his approach to rapping and content. When Captain California came out, I was hooked and I was waiting to hear what he’d do next. This album definitely took a turn in terms of content, especially with the singles he released and how he opened the album with “The Unimaginable” and “Melancholy”. I really dug that sound. I love when artists get intimate with what they discuss and show vulnerability, because you get to see the artist inside and not the image or front they have for you. Seven, Strange Music’s in house producer did the instrumentation for this album and it was such a great departure in tone and sound compared to his traditional sound he gives Tech N9ne. Murs does keep it light and loose through other songs in the album like “Whiskey & Patron” and “Superhero Pool Party”. Throughout the entire project, you learn more about MURS than ever before and you learn one very important thing above all else, he’s human.
7. Rozen- Glory To Mankind
Cover albums are always really difficult for me to judge. There’s seldom a chance nowadays where people ‘Jimi Hendrix’ a song and make it their own. It’s very tough to do that, especially when you’re attached to the initial song. My initial thought when I heard of Rozen and his work was that he’d attempt that. I was very wrong. Rozen, instead, re-orchestrated the music to Nier Automata and did an incredible job doing that. He added his own spin on things and brought life to tracks in a way that I didn’t think was possible. It’s amazing what he was able to do. He has an extensive series of work in the Legend of Zelda franchise where he re-arranges music in different styles and although I like those, I was never attached to the LoZ tracks from which they came. With Nier, I loved every bit of the game and I truly feel that I could substitute some of the game’s soundtrack with Rozen’s interpretations and I’d be perfectly content if not more happy with the soundtrack, and that is saying something. All of that aside, I was able to grab this project on vinyl and it sounds just as good and the presentation is even better than I expected.
6. JID – Dicaprio 2
Ever since I heard the Never Story, I knew I was a fan of JID. Hell, he got me hooked with one song, “Never”. His flows are ridiculous on that song alone and it was great hearing his story on the album. A very important aspect for me when it comes to an artist is learning about them. Dicaprio 2 did that and also did it on different production. The style of the Never Story is gone, and is replaced by a more trap influenced style of production. What isn’t replaced though is his story telling and his sense of humor. With light-hearted songs like Hotbox with more serious songs like Off Da Zoinkys, JID proves time and time again that he can rap on top of anything and still sounds like himself.
5. L’endecis- Playtime
Everyone knows about the 24/7 relax and study beats. It became a meme at this point. Through that YouTube series though, I fell down the rabbit hole of Chillhop records and all of their fantastic releases. It started with their seasonal compilations, but then evolved into checking out their artists. L’endecis was one of the first ones that I checked out that surprised me a lot. For one, he is a very melodic guitar player and is able to interlace the guitar into the music his boom bap style beats. Although Soulful was on the 2017 Fall compilation, I hadn’t heard it at that time so I was surprised and impressed by it. The album is short, but a great piece of music. It’s frequently played in my home and is a nice relaxing album. What’s really impressive to me though is the way he layers his instruments. It’s quintessential chillhop and I can’t wait to hear more of his work.
4. Phoniks- Down To Earth
2017 was a big year for me because I got to hear about Don’t Sleep Records. I was put on to them through a reddit post about 50 hip hop albums I probably missed, and they had posted DSR’s Sleep Is The Cousin of Death, which was fully produced by Phoniks. I love his boom bap style and always hoped he’d do a solo album. Well, here it is, and it’s better than I could have expected. It’s a solid instrumental album held together by skits from sci fi and supernatural movies and shows. The entire album is a head nodding experience and although it’s the album I have the least to say, it’s the album on this list that speaks for itself the most. Solid instrumentation and a great album to ride and vibe to.
3. Pusha T- Daytona
Coming into 2018, I didn’t know what a “Pusha-T” was. I didn’t know he was a rapper, I didn’t know he was from the legendary hip hop group the Clipse, and I certainly didn’t know he was still around and rapping. All that changed in May when I heard his album, Daytona for the first time. It’s worth noting I don’t do drugs, I don’t sell drugs, I know no one that sells drugs, but damn does this album make it feel like I DO. Pusha does such a great job with the metaphors and punchlines on this album. This was the first of many albums in the GOOD summer catalog as I call it that was produced by Kanye West. My thoughts on Ye as a person aside, he put his god damn soul in these pieces and you can feel it. Pusha rides these beats perfectly and shows you what a well-crafted project with meticulous lyrics, punchlines you feel in your chest and voice that can cut through a beat can do. As far as I’m concerned he did what he set out to do. He is my Ghost and my Rae. This is my purple tape.
2. Flatbush Zombies- Vacation in Hell
Flatbush Zombies were group I always heard about in the peripheral. I never checked out their music prior, but you can best believe when I heard Headstone I was nodding my head back and forth. I was at PAX East 2018 when the album dropped and I copped it immediately and listened to it. It didn’t sit well with me at the time, it was good, but not mind blowing. It wasn’t until I revisited it in August that it clicked. From there it was on constant rotation. They did something special with this album. Meechy’s lyrical content, especially on “U&I” and “Trapped” hit very close to home and have a lot of value to me. Erik’s production is top notch, but is not overshadowed by his own verses like the ones on “HELL-O” and “Reel Girls”. Zombie Juice, or just Juice for short, shows up to rap on this record (like he has for every Flatbush project) and shows that he has multiple flows and can still do hooks that get stuck in your head for hours. This group was new to me in 2018, but digging into their back catalog has also lead to some great songs and discoveries as well.
1. Avantdale Bowling Club- Avantdale Bowling Club
Every ‘indie’ thread or forum I follow was talking about this project. At one point, I got so fed up with it, I decided to listen to it. How good could a random artist from 2018 be, I asked myself. Well… so god damn good it could trounce every artist on this list. Avantdale Bowling Club is a group made by Tom Scott, a member of groups in New Zealand like Home Brew, @Peace, and Average Rap Group. He’s been making music for well over 10 years at this point, but I hadn’t heard of him till this project. I started this album at 1 in the morning in early to mid November. I’ll never forget the scene. Lights off, glow of my computer illuminating my face as I heard the first track. It immediately clicked and I was in love. I’d rant and rave about this album to anyone who’d listen. Tom Scott perfectly encapsulates growing up and the struggles you can face. The loss of friends, succumbing and being surrounded by substance abuse, having a child and having to grow up. He describes it all so well and vividly. The album rides through beautiful live jazz instrumentations that grab you. The shortest track on this album is almost five minutes, the longest closing in at 9 and a half minutes. Yet each song feels like a story, a chapter in his ongoing life. You can really tell he bared it all. He ripped his heart out and dipped his pen in the blood that would be his ink as he penned the story of his life and laid it down to the contradicting relaxing jazz instrumentation that at times, becomes as tense as his friend hanging himself in the park where they all went. You can’t help but sit in awe as he exposes himself in Quincy’s March, a song dedicated to his son in the form of a letter as he realizes that parenthood forever changed him and made him reevaluate every value and notion of success and life that he ever had. The album is not only my album of the year, it might just be one of my top 10 albums of all time. Everything about it is carefully crafted and one hears passion that should have been gone 9 years ago, but is currently setting the underground world ablaze. This is one for my history book, and hopefully yours too.
Saba – Care For Me
This album. This album right here took so long to click. It’s not that it was ‘bad’ or that it wasn’t a great release. I was hooked on the lyrical content, it was the instrumentals that took me by surprise. I couldn’t really vibe with it because of the mood, but when I listened to the album enough, I understood it. Just like Avantdale Bowling Club, this is an album that is driven by life, by depression, by loss. In this case, it’s due to his best friend and cousin Walt, dying. Lyrically, Saba blew me away and I felt his content in my very soul. This is absolutely a record you need to hear. There’s hardly a record that came out this year that I’d consider ‘essential’ but Avantdale Bowling Club and Care For Me are the. They are the two standing bastions of hip hop focusing on a topic that isn’t discussed too often, depression. The reason why Saba is an honorable mention as opposed to being on the list is because it only just clicked with me, three days ago. I personally felt it’d be unfair to include it as a mainstay on my list as a result of that, but it certainly doesn’t discredit it for being a fantastic piece of work.