Across the Margin commences its rollout of the Best Albums of 2018 with albums 50 – 41…
Throughout 2018, as we gleefully indulged in what was another stunning year in music (especially for women artists and hip-hop!), we continually came upon a common thread: catharsis through music. In these complicated, plugged-in, and often divisive times, music can be leaned on to provide a pause from the insanity of the twenty-four hour news cycle. For us, the following list is comprised of artists whose thoughtful introspection, and wonderfully crafted, unique, and intricate soundscapes whisked us to a place where little mattered besides relishing in the moment. These are the albums we are most grateful for in 2018. As is often the case, paring down this year’s offerings to a choice fifty was challenging to say the least, but we are proud to present to you the albums which received the most play over here at Across the Margin. So, without further delay, let’s step in and drop the needle…
50. Blood Orange — Negro Swan
Blood Orange’s (Dev Hynes) fourth album, Negro Swan, is impressively soulful and beautiful right from the jump. From the first enticing licks of the opening track “Orlando,” Hynes pulls you deeply into his world, and while the album is loaded with features and collaborators (Puff Daddy, Tei Shi, A$AP Rocky, Zuri Marley, Aaron Maine, Kelsey Lu and Steve Lacy), it is Hynes’ subtle, engaging production that provides a persistent heartbeat thumping consistently across the album, luring the listener into a hypnotic trance. True to form, Negro Swan is brimming with weighty themes. According to Hynes, the album is about “black depression…and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color.” Set against this backdrop it is becoming exceedingly clear how important a figure Hynes is not only as a musician, but as a voice of all those who are different, oppressed, or misjudged around the world.
Essential Tracks “Family with Janet Mock,” > “Charcoal Baby,” “Orlando,” “Chewing Gum with A$AP Rocky.”
49. Mythic Sunship – Upheaval
What exactly is in the drinking water in Denmark these days? The amount of splendid, deeply-inspired psych-rock echoing forth from this southernmost Scandinavian nation is jaw-dropping (Iceage, Causa Sui, etc. etc.), and Mystic Sunship’s third release (in as many years!), Upheaval, is a prime example of the sort of focused, thrashing rock that the country is absolutely brimming with. Described by the band as “the ethos of free jazz in a doom setting,” Upheaval is entirely engrossing and mesmerizing, and an album that exudes an unfathomable amount of energy. If you weren’t in the know prior to this year end countdown, now you know (you’re welcome!) — Upheaval is pure, driving psych-rock at its finest.
Essential Tracks: “Tectonic Beach,” “Cosmic Rupture.”
48. JID — Dicaprio II
The hype around JID is monstrous these days, and we are starting to buy in. We have come upon comparisons of the Atlanta-based, J. Cole-signed emcee to Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, and J. Cole himself, and while we aren’t there yet — we get it, the man can spit. JID’s rapid-fire flow is astonishing, and in hearing him go toe-to-toe with the likes of A$AP Ferg, J. Cole, Method Man and Joey Bada$$ on his second album Dicaprio 2, it has become evident that JID is indeed the truth. Dicaprio 2 features JID’s unique brand of constantly-changing flows and frenzied energy that sets him apart from his contemporaries. Dicaprio 2 isn’t just telling to JID’s potential, but a sign that the artist has arrived, and proof positive that he is one of today’s most compelling lyricists.
Essential Tracks: “151 Rum,” “Off Deez with J. Cole,” “Skrawberries with BJ The Chicago Kid,” “Hot Box with Method Man and Joey Bada$$.”
47. Caitlin Canty – Motel Bouquet
Caitlin Canty’s music has a calming effect that we here at Across The Margin find ourselves seeking out whenever despondency strikes. The Nashville-via-Vermont singer/songwriter’s ability to pacify is a current running through her gorgeous new release, Motel Bouquet. Produced by Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers), Motel Bouquet is both dreamy and pointed, with poetic lyricism that dances lightly yet purposefully atop Canty’s lush soundscapes. Of the opening track, “Take Me For A Ride,” one that immediately gave us pause, Canty explains “the song is a take on the frustration in circling back to a vice or a person that you’ve been trying to quit,” proving that while music can blissfully whisk your worries away, it is often born of the troubles we all face day in and day out.
Essential Tracks: “Take Me For a Ride,” “Onto You,” “River Alone.”
46. Nas — Nasir
Twenty-four years ago, Queensbridge rapper Nas released what is arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all time in Illmatic. With this in mind, it is unfathomable to comprehend how he is still capable of releasing impactful, portentous music as is the case with his latest, Nasir. The album, executive produced by Kanye West, is the fourth of five, seven-track albums West produced this year in what is now known as the “Wyoming Sessions.” Categorically vintage, Nas can be found on tracks such as “Adam And Eve” (which samples Kourosh Yaghmaei’s 1974 track “Gol-e Yakh”) waxing poetically about his family’s lineage over a buoyant, circuitous piano line, a song that could have fit in flawlessly within his mid-90’s heyday. While entirely terse for an album, coming in at just twenty-six minutes, Nasir is thoughtful, full of extraordinary lyricism, confronts important social justice issues, is packed with hard-hitting Kanye beats, and serves as additional proof of what has already been established over the last two decades — that Nas is one of the greatest rappers of all time, period.
Essential Tracks: “Adam And Eve,” “Cops Shot The Kid,” “Everything.”
45. Ty Segall — Freedom’s Goblin
It truly broke our heart to not include Ty Segall’s Ty Segall in 2017’s Best Of Countdown. It was undoubtedly one of the best releases of the year, and we at Across the Margin are a shill for all things Segall. Luckily, while preparing our list at year’s end, we could see over the horizon that a new album from the outrageously prolific artist was already on the way in the form of Freedom’s Goblin, a fact we discovered upon the introduction of the release on Conan O’Brien where Ty and his band absolutely shredded the raucous rocker “Fanny Dog” to pieces. Freedom’s Goblin is an album runneth over (a double album clocking in at 19 songs!) with everything that makes Ty Segall one of today’s modern rock gods: thrashing guitar solos, catchy harmonies, soothing ballads, and that singular edge that defines all of Segall’s releases. Unsurprisingly, Freedom’s Goblin wasn’t the only album of note released by this ridiculously fruitful rocker, as he also released an impressive collection of covers entitled Fudge Sandwich, which is triumphant in its own right.
Essential tracks” “Fanny Dog,” “My Lady’s On Fire,” “Every 1’s a Winner.”
44. Fantastic Negrito — Please Don’t Be Dead
Fantastic Negrito (Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz) is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist with an absolutely fascinating backstory. It’s one filled with near death experiences, spiritual rebirths, and bouts with both failure and success across his budding musical career. Heavily influenced by the struggles of his past (a past which includes winning NPR’s inaugural Tiny Desk contest!), Fantastic Negrito has released one of the most impassioned albums we have come upon all year, entitled Please Don’t Be Dead. The idea of growing from past experiences that permeates Negrito’s music is exemplified by his wailing “Take that bullshit and turn it into good shit,” on the ultra-funky song “Bullshit Anthem.” “Ohh I get knocked down, but I keep on fighting / I get knocked down, but I keep on trying,” he continues, exuding the spirit which defines Fantastic Negrito and his latest release. Fantatstic Negrito has been through the wringer, but 2018 finds him at the top of his game as Please Don’t Be Dead is a soulful tour-de-force from an artist we couldn’t be more excited about seeing what he comes up with next.
Essential Tracks: “Plastic Hamburgers,” Bad Guy Necessity,” “Dark Windows,” “Bullshit Anthem.”
43. Julian Lage — Modern Lore
Julian Lage is a musical savant. In 1996, he was the subject of the Oscar-nominated short “Jules at Eight.” The next year, at age nine, he famously traded licks with Carlos Santana onstage. At 12, Lage performed at the 2000 Grammy Awards. At 15, Lage became a faculty member at the Stanford Jazz Workshop at Stanford University. Since then, he has released a series of studio albums that awe in their aptitude. His latest release, his fifth studio album entitled Modern Lore, focusses on one of his many projects, a trio with Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Modern Lore is the sort of music you can turn on and let ride as ornate and alluring background music, but the more attention you give over to the album, the more you take away, and the more you will begin to understand Lage’s genius as one of the most gifted guitarists of modern times.
Essential tracks: “The Ramble,” “Atlantic Limited,” “Roger The Dodger.”
42. Jonathan Wilson — Rare Birds
The release of Jonathan Wilson’s third full length album in early March floored us. While we were extremely versed in many of his production credits, including remarkable work with Father John Misty (Fear Fun, I Love You HoneyBear), Conor Oberst (Upside Down Mountain), and Dawes (Nothing Is Wrong, North Hills) — just to name a few — we admittedly hadn’t explored his solo work in depth. Upon fixing this wide and embarrassing gap in our musical expertise, we fell deeply not only for Wilson’s latest album Rare Birds, but for the entirety of his catalog, particularly 2013’s stunning Fanfare (treat yo-self!). Since March, Wilson’s albums, including Rare Birds, has been getting mad burn over here at Across The Margin, especially the sonic journey that is the entirely engaging and smooth “Over The Midnight,” and the expansive odyssey of “Trafalgar Square.”
Essential Tracks: “Over The Midnight,” “Loving You,” “Trafalgar Square.”
41. Lucy Dacus — Historian
Lucy Dacus, one third of the super-group Boygenius (more on that to come!), is a singer-songwriter who hails from Richmond, Virginia, and for our money one of the most gifted young talents around. On the follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut album, No Burden (2016), Dacus presents an album rife with lush melodies and intricate arrangements, flush with complexity and thought-provoking lyricism. As complete an album we’ve come upon all year, Historian’s songs are patient and potent, and explore themes of mortality and humans innate search for purpose as they fight a losing battle against time. Each song acts as a storybook unto its own, all singular journeys that have the potential to break open at any point (see “Night Shift” and “Timefighter”!), or to continually embrace you with a warm and firming grip.
Essential Tracks: “Night Shift,” “Yours & Mine,” “Pillars of Truth.”
To Be Continued…