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Top Ten Albums of 2018

Selected & reviewed by various contributors

Music pulls each one of us in different directions, but can bound us together in surprising ways. It’s a tool of expression, but also connection, allowing us to reach out and share distinct feelings with one another.

The music created each year is a progression of our history. Some of it has rattled traditional standards of thinking and acting. Most importantly, a lot of it has fostered the space for underrepresented peoples. We all have voices & music is what makes us human.

In collaboration with SCOPE Productions, these are our top ten albums of 2018 in alphabetical order.

Be The Cowboy by Mitski

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“I'm a geyser, feel it bubbling from below/Hear it call, hear it call.”

The opening of Mitski’s fifth album is ushered by ‘Geyser,’ a climatic ballad that materializes into a thrilling annunciation that sets the scene for a 14-track anthology. Her tender voice constructs itself into a roaring conviction with authority that demands to be the truth. And I believe her.

From the desperate acoustic melody of ‘Lonesome Love,’ I was barreled into the lumbering and electric tune ‘Remember My Name.’ It is here, where Mitski expresses her desire for the insurmountable--an insatiable appetite to be witnessed and memorialized forever.

Her willingness to author such vulnerable narratives makes Be the Cowboy a masterful vaudeville. Mitski’s emotionally compelling lyrics are anything but raw. Every expression is carefully curated and astute. She enlists a troupe of voices to tell stories of emotional honesty. Mitski is the commander, but she is also the thespian performing a one-woman show.

The very title of the album is an empowering mantra. She reclaims the dauntless grit of the American cowboy mythos for herself.

- Vivian Le

Catch Mitski in Iowa City at the Englert Theatre on April 5th, 2019. - As part of the Mission Creek 2019 lineup hosted by SCOPE Productions.

Care For Me by Saba

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On Care For Me, Saba (born Tahj Malik Chandler on Chicago’s west side) paints a detailed picture of his grieving process over the murder of his cousin, Walter Long Jr., in February of 2017. Over the course of 42 minutes, Saba contemplates and taps into the complexities and ironies of loneliness in a golden age of connectivity.

Songs like “BUSY/SIRENS” and “LOGOUT” are prime examples of Saba’s potent lyrical observations, with the latter featuring a verse from Chance The Rapper who sounds exhausted and insecure from examining the dark side of social media and its effects on users. In a year that featured several strong releases from Chicago rappers, this is one that will stick with you long after the last track, “HEAVEN ALL AROUND ME,” ends.

- Mac Chuchra

Ephorize by cupcakKe

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21-year-old Chicago rapper, cupcakKe, released her third studio album, Ephorize, early in 2018. Ephorize is packed with sexually liberating lyrics and beats that even the most celibate listener can jam to. These are perfect anthems for the women’s and LGBT rights movements that have flourished throughout 2018.

The album starts with “2 Minutes,” a slower, more melodic tune that I hadn’t expected from such an eccentric artist, but which lets the listener hear words of support concerning mental health and oppression. The album speeds up quickly afterward with more promiscuous tracks like “Cartoons,” and “Spoiled Milk Titties.” Of course, cupcakKe gives a tribute to a popular American childhood breakfast in another highlight track, “Cinnamon Toast Crunch.”

She is an artist who has perfectly encompassed and embraced in her music what young people are celebrating about themselves. CupcakKe stepped even further into her musical style and became more vulnerable with her listeners in Ephorize.

- Elaine Irvine

Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDELS

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Joy as an Act of Resistance is a compelling LP by the group IDLES. Their heavy post-punk sound is a good compliment of the lyrics addressing a fed up attitude towards the state of the world today.

The record has diverse sounds with heavily distorted guitars has reminantes of hardcore punk. With the raw sounds of the album the lyrics reflect that. Addressing xenophobia, mental and drug abuse, as well as social expectations. IDLES doesn’t fold on the abrasive sound to get their point across, for example on the track “Love Song” the lead singer Joe Talbot screams out “I love you” with cliché lyrics of romanticism. Yet this is paired with shouts and hard hitting guitars, making these tracks compelling not only in composition but in content.

- Jack Roche

OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES by SOPHIE

Scottish music producer SOPHIE released her first studio album titled OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES in 2018. SOPHIE produced music for big name artists such as Madonna, Charlie XCX, and Vince Staples prior to releasing her own music.

The contrast between SOPHIE’s soft, calm songs and her hard, fast songs is large. “It’s Okay to Cry,” the opening track of the album, and “Is It Cold In The Water?” are airy, comforting lyrical embraces. The next two tracks, “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping” are magnificent and electric, taking up the entire room. The album pulls the listener back and forth, between static and stable.

SOPHIE uses OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES as a commentary on the simultaneous fetishization and pain that comes with separating a soul from the object of a human body, as seen in BDSM, social media presence, and gender identities/norms. This is perhaps the impact SOPHIE’s identity as a trans woman has on her music: “Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren't fighting against each other and struggling to survive.”

- Elaine Irvine

Songs of Praise by Shame

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Sharing name with the long running British television program, Songs of Praise has unapologetically fronted Shame in the voice of guitar music. Ironically named from the tranquil TV show, Charlie Steen’s arguable vocals, laced with guitarists Eddie Green and Sean-Cole Smith, harmoniously carry each other. Raised by bassist and drummer Josh Finerty and Charlie Forbes, the South London friends that met in 2014 released one of the most glamorous and riotous works that teases the sound of stapled punk groups Television, The Pixies, and Swell Maps.

Their debut is lawless with a purpose revealing the faces behind Steen’s lyrics. Delicately crafted, “Angie” draws upon the groups grasp of relationships and loss, along with the emotion weaved within them. “I know you could better/and I know you could do worse”, depicting the emotions of loving a girl who took her own life. Shame’s parlous recordings become ethereal in their live shows and personalities which are warm to audiences, establishing their sense of achievement on Songs of Praise.

- Tommy McIlhon

Swimming by Mac Miller

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Mac Miller’s Swimming is an album in which Miller takes a deep dive into his challenges with alcohol, drugs, love, and finding contentment within himself.

Swimming’s smooth yet somber sound justly accompanies the story he tells through reflection of his trying past. Despite how bleak it once made him feel, he is trying to develop a more hopeful and constructive mindset to work through it. He realizes the strength of self love and self reliance in trying to remedy his thought patterns and self destructive behavior.

He knows changes like these are not done with the flip of a switch, but vows that if he can just keep swimming, things will be alright. I believe Swimming deserves to be called one of 2018’s best albums because it promotes the importance of being honest with oneself to be able to grow and move forward.

- Carolyn Wojtkowski

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett

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Melbourne-born baddie, Courtney Barnett, robbed the hearts of music-lovers everywhere this May with her second solo album, Tell Me How You Really Feel. The record kicks off with a hypnotizing (somewhat unsettling) riff, soon followed by the transparent and raw voice of what can only be … God.

The intro track then spirals into a guitar squealing stank-sesh, inviting the listeners to fasten their freaking seatbelts, as there is emotional turbulence to come. The album sets itself apart with plain-language honesty and wide ranging rock influences.

From a folky ode to candor (“Walking on Eggshells”) to a confrontational look at misogyny (“Nameless, Faceless”), a clear theme of ~saying what needs to be said~ exists. She got a song called “Crippling Self-Doubt and A General Lack of Confidence” on there for heck’s sake! With her honesty, Courtney emulates just how insecurity and self-respect can coexist, an important lesson for anyone.

- Elly Hofmaier

Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts

The post-punk band Parquet Courts’ most recent album, Wide Awake! brings many of their inspirations together in a record that surpasses many others of 2018. The band’s sixth album shows their unique style in the most refined recording of their career. Each track is delivered extremely tightly, which is impressive in contrast to Parquet Courts’ loose style.

The post-punk band wears their inspirations heavily on this LP, with 70s funk, classic and art rock all neatly presented in a modern post-punk sound that provides a unique experience. The track “Freebird II” blends the sounds of 60s and 70s pop rock with the electric organ sounds with post-punk sounds of more modern artists. The mix also is done well, as they brought on the renowned producer Danger Mouse, who has worked with artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, and A$AP Rocky.

The themes on the album are bringing new perspectives on the socio-political environment in the past years in the U.S. and world as well, making this album one of the most relevant of the year. Parquet Courts has developed a distinct sound throughout their career, and Wide Awake! is their magnum opus, let alone of the most prolific albums of the year.

- Jack Roche

Yu-Utsu by Yu-Utsu

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This instrumental album makes you feel like you’re living inside of an 1980’s computer while driving a ferrari at night in Miami in slow motion. The 80’s certainly never left us.

It’s an album in the realm of vaporwave or synthwave, with it’s hyper-nostalgic feel of old computer-y sounds that not only feels like the past, but also has a forward, retro-futuristic feel to it. It’s filled with Phil Colin style bass drums, Edge like reverb and delay and Brian Eno-esque ethereal synths.

It’s an album with an aesthetic. And often that aesthetic is feeling like you’re watching the sun rise over the end of the world while sitting in an abandoned corporate lobby. And, boy, does it sound good.

- John Smith

LISTEN TO ALL THE ALBUMS MENTIONED BELOW