This year’s music releases have taken listeners across every range of emotion, from soaring ballads to hard-hitting rap, country pop and disco to slow-burning R&B. It is a year of well-written lyrics — the best albums are not only the ones that feel personal and raw, but also those that are able to maintain honest songwriting while branching into new and exciting sounds. There is an authenticity about these 10 albums; each in some way is the most powerful and interesting in their respective artist’s discography. There are a few honorable mentions, including Saba’s “Care for Me,” The 1975’s “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships,” BORNS’ “Blue Madonna” and Mariah Carey’s “Caution.”
10. “Singular: Act I” (Sabrina Carpenter)
“Singular: Act 1” is an impressive release. Through a refreshingly short eight tracks, Carpenter builds on love, romance and her own personal experiences in surprisingly mature ways for a 19-year-old ex-Disney Channel act. Lead single “Almost Love” is sultry dance-pop, while “Paris” and “prfct” are edgier jams. Carpenter’s voice may be center stage, but the production makes the dance-pop “Singular: Act 1” more than just a love album. On “Singular: Act 1,” Carpenter seems to delve into newfound adulthood, but she keeps a foot in the infectious melodies of her previous releases. Listeners can only sit and wait for Act II.
9. “Invasion of Privacy” (Cardi B)
A debut unlike any other, Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” holds nothing back. The album is layered with interesting insights into Cardi, from her personal life to her public figure. There is vulnerable history for Cardi on “Get Up 10,” while the rapper adds sexual hilarity to “Bickenhead” and helpless anger on “Thru Your Phone.” It is a 3D release that presents Cardi B as a powerful figure, showcasing sides of the Bronx star that even she might not have known she had.
8. “Everything is Love” (Beyoncé and Jay-Z)
It is the final installment in the Carters’ trilogy on love, marriage, fame, wealth and infidelity. Beginning with Beyoncé’s iconic “Lemonade” (2016) and continuing into Jay-Z’s “4:44” (2017), a collaborative album by the two was always expected — and expected to be good. “Everything is Love” does not disappoint, with the two music legends rapping and singing through highlight tracks like R&B jam “SUMMER,” trap single “APESHIT” and hip-hop heaven “LOVEHAPPY.” Sure, Beyoncé seems to outshine Jay-Z — granted, Beyoncé outshines everyone — but the two work incredibly well on this fleshed-out, satisfying ending.
7. “The Now Now” (Gorillaz)
“The Now Now” comes after the darker and less-consistent “Humanz” (2017), a long album with an even longer list of collaborators. With their newest release, Gorillaz get back to basics. “The Now Now” focuses on gorgeous summer sounds, simpler themes and coherent production and voice. It is an optimistic album, from the summer sun of “Humility” (feat. George Benson) to the twinkling sound of “Sorcererz” and the comfort of “Souk Eye.” With this, “The Now Now” is a grounded release from a virtual band that is always evolving.
6. “Swimming” (Mac Miller)
The late rapper’s final album is a testament to vulnerability, confusion, acceptance and honesty. “Swimming” flows through sounds and themes, introducing many and developing them slowly with each track. “Hurt Feelings” is perfect melancholy, “What’s the Use?” is more fun disco and “Small Worlds” is slower R&B. It is his strongest body of music, with Miller giving listeners a look into his own doubts and demons. This rawness can be shocking at first, but it is with dreamy honesty that “Swimming” hooks listeners.
5. “Little Dark Age” (MGMT)
Their first new album in five years, “Little Dark Age” brings MGMT back to their roots: pop beats, darker themes and warping vocals. It is a challenging listen, with the band’s now-famous eccentric ideas hitting hard in songs like “When You Die.” Of course, this is when MGMT is at their best, displaying an authenticity and weirdness that is both focused and intriguing. There is an 80s pop vibe around the album, but each song develops intricacies and addictive melodies. The title track, “Little Dark Age,” is darker synth, while “One Thing Left to Try” is rambunctious pop. “Little Dark Age” is MGMT’s best album yet and a strong return for the band.
4. “Be the Cowboy” (Mitski)
Mitski’s genius is especially prevalent on “Be the Cowboy,” her fifth album. “Be the Cowboy” sees Mitski branch into new sounds (more rock) and deeper themes (loneliness, hurt and vulnerability). It is a stripped-down piece of art, and Mitski’s songwriting skills are the bones, flesh and blood of the album. This does not mean “Be the Cowboy” lacks bops and jams. Slower disco “Nobody” and slinky funk “Washing Machine Heart” both manage to build on the album’s themes without losing their fun. Sure, “Be the Cowboy” is structurally sound, but its focus is on Mitski’s worldview — something everyone should pay attention to.
3. “Dirty Computer” (Janelle Monáe)
Monáe has long been a face in the music industry, but with “Dirty Computer” — a concept album exploring sex, women, race and fluidity — she becomes one of 2018’s most important icons. There is an organic vulnerability to “Dirty Computer,” prevalent in tracks like “Crazy, Classic, Life” and the slower “Don’t Judge Me.” Monáe’s masterpiece is not short of jams, though. “Make Me Feel” and “I Got The Juice” (feat. Pharrell Williams) are the album’s more pop moments, but are still full of purpose. With “Dirty Computer,” Monáe seems to have found herself, and it is pure joy to listen to.
2. “Golden Hour” (Kacey Musgraves)
The country star’s fourth studio album is stunningly unique, blending country pop (“Butterfly”) with disco (“High Horse”) and slow ballads (“Rainbow”). Musgraves effortlessly brings everything to the table, offering heartache and independence with an attitude that makes “Golden Hour” extremely fulfilling. It is a comfort listen, built upon warm sounds and a nice country twist that highlights Musgraves’ voice and honest lyrics. “Golden Hour” seems to be all-knowing — there is a sense of maturity in the work that is unlike anything Musgraves has released before or any other music released this year.
1. “High as Hope” (Florence + the Machine)
From its most sweeping moments to its most hushed whispers, “High as Hop” is Florence + the Machine and 2018’s music at its best. Florence Welch’s vocals dominate every track — vulnerable on tracks like “June” and “The End of Love” and intimidating on “Big God” and “Grace.” Executively produced by Welch herself, the fourth album from the band explores Welch’s past and loneliness in cultivating lyrics and a more orchestral production compared to the art rock and pop of “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” (2015). It is the sweet spot of everything Florence + the Machine excels at and a reminder that when Welch sings, everyone had better listen.