Across the Margin continues its rollout of the Best Albums of 2018 with albums 20 – 11…
The countdown rolls on…
20. Bobby Sessions — RVTLN (Chapter 1): The Divided States of America
It was Killer Mike who inspired us to seek out to find Bobby Sessions, as the Atlanta native and one half of one of Across The Margin’s all time favorite acts, Run The Jewels, spits flames on one of Sessions’ new tracks, “Black Neighborhood.” Once we found Sessions we were awed by the brand of revolutionary rap this Dallas Native was capable of. On his sophomore effort, RVTLN (Chapter 1): The Divided States of America, Sessions channels his anger surrounding the injustices black Americans face and to him it’s decidedly personal. In 2012, his cousin, James Germon Harper, while unarmed, was gunned down by a member of the Dallas Police Department. This unjust shooting appropriately caused waves, nearly causing a riot in the city, and the recent Def Jam signee uses RVTLN Chapter 1 as a tool to channel his frustration and speak out boldly on the all too real and ever present problems facing black Americans daily.
19. Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs — Fetti
It has been rumored for quite some time now that the Gary, Indiana-born rapper Freddie Gibbs and New Orlean’s own Curren$y were cooking something up together. Yet, as 2017 came to a close, there was still nothing to speak of regarding the long-awaited compilation between these two phenomenally talented emcees. Finally birthed into the world this October, the Alchemist-produced album delivered on all the hype and then some (the three artists have previously collaborated on the track “Scottie Pippen”). Freddie (who also put out a tremendous self-titled solo album this year) and Curren$y are established veterans in the rap game at this point, each with a singular sound that raised a question about how well they would work together. That question was emphatically answered with the release of Fetti, where verse after verse both emcees spit with purpose and dynamism, playing off each other perfectly. The word “fetti” is a slang term for money, and hustling is no doubt the name of the game here. Each track exhibits the duos aptitude for storytelling rap that walks one through their triumphs and struggles on the street. Fetti is an album filled with hard-hitting, straight-forward rap that showcases two emcees at the top of their game, and it’s an album that will have our head nodding deep into 2019.
18. Jeff Rosenstock — Post-
Jeff Rosenstock dropped an absolute barnburner of an album on the first day of 2018 entitled Post-, marking his third solo effort. Bolstered by robust pop-rock anthems and a fierce energy, Post- is as energizing and affecting an album as any released this year. Of all the tracks on this riveting album, there is one that stands out not only as a blistery rocker, but as one that is suffused with pointed lyricism and is telling of the sort of introspective numbers this album is overflowing with. “USA” conveys the frustration of the moment in a country whose ills, and divisions, have become more readily apparent than ever before. “Dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected / Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted / Trapped in my room while the house was burnin’ / To the motherfuckin’ ground,” Rosenstock wails in the opening moments of “USA.” The song is an absolutely perfect anthem of angst in the Trump Era, and Post- is the perfect album for these uncertain times.
17. Mac Miller — Swimming
The world lost not only an incredibly gifted artist this year, but a genuine and wonderful human being, with the passing of Mac Miller. Gone at the young age of 26, the Pittsburgh-born rapper had wowed us album after album, and was surely becoming one of hip-hop’s most compelling acts. Mac Miller was your favorite rap star’s favorite rap star. Cherished by those lucky enough to cross paths with Mac, many notable artists (SZA, Vince Staples, Lil B, Ab-Soul, Riff Raff, etc.) turned to him for beats in his role as a record producer under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman. The depression that Mac struggled with his whole life, and that eventually got the better of him, is evident throughout Swimming. On the opener “Come Back To Earth,” he sings “I just need a way out of my head, I’ll do anything for a way out,” and there are also more than a few alludes to his then-recent break-up with Ariana Grande. Swimming, however, isn’t bogged down by melancholy or malaise, but rather hinted at a potential turning point in Mac’s life, where he was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel (a fact that makes his passing even harder to swallow). “Every day I wake up and breathe / I don’t have it all, but that’s alright with me,” he spits on “2009,” a track where Mac ponders all he has learned throughout life. On “Self Care,” co-written Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, Miller repeats the phrasing “Hell yeah, we gonna be alright.” There were signs that Mac was finding a way to become comfortable in his own skin, and Swimming serves as a celebration of all that he had accomplished, rejoicing on the tremendous “What’s The Use” (with guest appearances by Thundercat, Snoop Dogg, and Syd), “When I had nothing shit it wasn’t so funny / Made a promise to the homies nobody go hungry / Look how far we came, still they throwin’ dirt on my name / But it never worried my brain.” Swimming has appropriately received a posthumous Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album for 2018, and will, along with the rest of Mac’s catalog and work, live on as a memorial to a brilliant artist. R.I.P. Mac, gone but never forgotten.
16. Mitski — Be the Cowboy
Mitski’s fifth album, Be the Cowboy, is easily her best one yet. It’s hard to make such a statement knowing that her previous releases — 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek and 2016’s Purbety 2 — were so goddamn good. On Be the Cowboy one gets the sense that Mitski wants us to experience the most personal parts of her, in all their raw and unpolished form. However, the arrangement of the songs on the album, their lyrics and the ways in which Mitski conveys her emotion feel anything but unpolished. There’s the emotion and then there’s the music, right? Despite the short nature of her songs (they average around two minutes), and the pared down soundscapes, the deliberate ways in which she executes her minimalistic style speaks to Mitski’s talents. Her choice of words appear meticulous, despite their restless nature, and the production and formidable soundscapes are rich and lush, despite their low-key feel. The overarching narrative on Be the Cowboy is one of love, and one of Mitski’s greatest talents is her ability to convey complex, often heartbreaking emotions in pleasing ways. Feelings of building and losing, hurt and pleasure, stagnating and changing run like a river through the album. Songs like “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?,” — where Mitski understands that she broke up with her lover but laments that he didn’t chase after her — and “A Pearl,” — where she acknowledges she is distant and realizes it hurts her lover — are illustrative of this albums poignant theme. On Be the Cowboy it feels like Mitski has been walking through life, collecting all these facets of love — the hurt, the joy, the uncertainty — and has chosen this collection of 14 songs to speak to us of what she has found. On the albums closing track, “Two Slow Dancers,” Mitski sings: It would be a hundred times easier / If we were young again…To think that we could stay the same / But we’re two slow dancers, last ones out. It’s a powerful close to an equally powerful album and like the title of her song “A Pearl,” the words, imagery and emotion that she leaves you with on Be A Cowboy are the pearl that lingers within you long after the music has faded.
15. Khruangbin — Con Todo El Mundo
From the opening rapid drum snare to the faint, airy vocals that close out the album, Khruangbin’s Con Todo El Mundo is an album flush with warm and inviting psychedelic vibes. Short on lyrics, heavy on impeccably smart guitar, infectious bass, and drumming that is genius in its simplicity, the album basically functions as a lengthy and pleasant sway from side-to-side. Rife with whispered vocals, surf riffs, spoken word, ethereal instrumentals, and laid-back vibes, what the Houston-birthed trio has crafted on this album can only be described as fresh, exciting and uplifting. Songs like “August 10” and “Maria También” aptly display the bands diverse influences. “August 10” flirts with Cuban Soul while “Maria También” toys with Iranian Pop, these two songs only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the deep well of musical influences that Khruangbin draws its inspiration from. Khruangbin’s formula across their last two albums (we highly recommend you check out 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You!) has been to define a style of music that knows no borders, that is truly wordly. It’s an approach that has garnered Khruangbin critical acclaim, and several notable live performances, including a show-stealing set at last year’s Glastonbury Festival. Khruangbin has doubled-down on this musical tactic on Con Todo El Mundo — With All The World, roughly translated — taking their Thai Funk-centered approach to creating music that they began in a Texas barn and blending it with reflections of the greater world. If there were an album released in 2018 that has a chance of soothing the collective angst currently engulfing the world, Con Todo El Mundo is it.
14. Oh Sees — Smote Reverser
It’s another year and another stellar album from the California psychedelic rock group Oh Sees under their new, shortened moniker. On what we argue is their most notable effort yet, Oh Sees’ Smote Reverser feels like a follow-up, or maybe the demon child of, 2017’s thunderclap of an album Orc. On Smote Reverser, the impression is that this current lineup of band members have fully expanded into their prog-metal personas they laid the groundwork for in Orc. The album feels like the Oh Sees have stepped through a mystical portal of rock and been transported somewhere otherworldly and dark. The fuzzy, krautrock-flavored soundscapes put forth on Orc have been catapulted into the Milky Way on Smote Reverser with the Oh Sees’ fully embracing the new cosmic landscape before them. There’s further exploration of the wicked double-drummer dynamic, unhinged rocking out, interludes into blues and punk, distorted synths, and tortured guitar blasts, and new ways in which ringleader John Dwyer explores his vocals, oftentimes swapping out the role of singer for one of narrator. There’s a ton of new Oh Sees packed into Smote Reverser, and 21 albums in, it feels like this group is not only evolving, but redefining its musical habitat as it grows. Trust us, put Smote Reverser on blast and don’t turn it off until its final, fiery note fades into oblivion.
13. Lil Wayne — Tha Carter V
It has been awhile since we’ve spent time in Wayne’s World, and because of that it became easy to forget just how dazzling Lil Wayne can be when he’s at the top of his game. Luckily, the release of Tha Carter V this September acted as an overt reminder of just what sort of talent we are dealing with here. While much of the hype regarding the album is focused on the formidable track “Mona Lisa,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, which pairs two of the greatest to ever do it together, we cannot get over Wayne’s verses on “Dedicated.” As self-assured a track you will come upon, “Dedication” is a celebration of all Wayne has accomplished, accentuated by the fact it samples 2 Chainz’s “Dedication,” which is itself an ode to Wayne, and also employs the use of a clip from one of President Barack Obama’s 2009 speeches in which he stated: “Our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne.” There is a lot to chew on with The Carter V, an album comprising 19 tracks and featuring assists from Swizz Beatz, XXXTentacion, Wayne’s mother Jacida Carter, Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar, Sosamann, Wayne’s daughter Reginae Carter, Snoop Dogg, Ashanti, Mack Maine, Nivea, Post Malone, and Gucci Mane, but we have drinked fully from the cup of The Carter V and are happy to report back that it’s all good. Wayne came so strong with Tha Carter V, ensuring it will be a long time before we forget how talented he is again.
12. Sleep — The Sciences
The Sciences is the fourth studio album from the California metal band Sleep, and it was a long, long time coming. The album was released – unannounced – on April 20th, 2018 through Jack White’s Detroit-based record label Third Man Records after a twenty year hiatus. The last time we came upon Sleep they had just released the illustrious, hour-long 1998 marvel “Dopesmoker,” a track we still to this day remain in awe of. Considered many to be in a genre of music called ”stoner metal” (the intro to the album’s opener “Marijuananaut’s Theme” is the sound of a bong hit being ripped!), Sleep’s brand of hard rock is entirely hypnotic and all-consuming. It is the sort of metal that you can get deeply lost in, riding each raucous wave unto the next. There are two instrumental tracks on The Sciences, “The Sciences” and “The Botanist,” that are both stunning and highlight how extremely talented guitarist Matt Pike is. In a day and age where hype is often divvied out unwarranted and with disregard, Sleep proved through The Sciences why they have earned legend status, an album that was authentically worth the two decade wait.
11. Royce Da 5’ 9” — Book Of Ryan
Detroit native Royce Da 5’9” has been busy this year, surely making the most of his time under the spotlight. Beyond releasing an album with DJ Premiere, the second in their Phryme series, Royce put out a tremendous solo album entitled Book of Ryan that is chock full of hits. There’s “Caterpillar,” which features Eminem spitting as if he were still in his prime, the squad banger that is “Summer On Lock” featuring Pusha T, Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Assasin, and “Cocaine,” a song rife with ultra smooth soundscapes and an impactful personal narrative. Book of Ryan is an album that, we believe, will continue to grow in legend as time moves on, considering the album captures consummately just how phenomenal Royce is when he leans into his work. This is the artists definitive work of art to this point, and that’s saying a lot from such a tireless, and prolific emcee.
Essential Tracks: “Caterpillar (with Eminem and King Green),” “Cocaine,” “Summer on Lock (with Pusha T, Jadakiss, Fabolous, and Assasin).”
To Be Concluded…