Every year for the past decade, I’ve been making lists of my favorite things in the media. I’m no expert in music, but I enjoy it too much not to include it among my ranking of the best. My personal blog has a breakdown of albums in various categories like Country and Rap. To see that full list, go to the Best Music of 2018 on my personal blog. There, you can also read a more comprehensive view of what was successful this past year.
That article contains 31 albums that are excellent and the ones about which I’m more passionate. From that article, I chose a top ten that most would agree are records that any could enjoy, particularly the average radio-listening audience. Given that I am more a film critic, it might not seem so, but it’s purely coincidental that a couple of my choices are movie-related.
10. A STAR IS BORN by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – This is the first of the music albums on this list that is movie-related. It is in fact the soundtrack to the film of the same name, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The hit song from the album “Shallow” is up for four Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media. Yet, all the other tracks are pretty incredible too, the cover songs and even the other original tracks like “Always Remember Us This Way” and “I’ll Never Love Again.”
9. CAMILA by Camila Cabello – This is the 21-year-old’s debut. She was formerly part of the girl group called Fifth Harmony, which she left two years ago. The Cuban-American’s sound is very much Latin and dancehall-inspired as her hit single “Havana” proves.
8. SPARROW by Ashley Monroe – It’s the fourth album from the Tennessee singer. She released her first album in 2009, but in 2011 she formed the girl group, Pistol Annies, which includes Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley. She got major accolades working with Blake Shelton three years ago, but this album shows she can fly when she’s the solo act.
7. LAMP LIT PROSE by Dirty Projectors – David Longstreth is the musician from Connecticut who attended Yale University and is now based in Brooklyn. Longstreth started the band over 15 years ago. He claims not to now why he chose the name “Dirty Projectors,” but for me it makes another album on this list that is movie-related. Yes, it’s a stretch, but I used to work in a movie theater and I had to clean dirty projectors often. The name though doesn’t matter, it’s Longstreth’s voice and style that is what’s most compelling about all his work, particularly this one.
6. THE HEX by Richard Swift – This album was released posthumously. It came out in late September. Swift passed away in July of 2018. I had never heard of him before. I was intrigued to learn that he produced one of my favorite albums from six years ago, that of Damien Jurado’s Maraqopa (2012). I think I like Jennifer Kelly’s review in Dusted Magazine. She wrote, “Here his final collection of songs is both grand and ghostly, sweeping and solitary, and you do not have to know how the story ends to sense a profound melancholy.”
5. HEAVEN BEFORE ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE by Plan B – Benjamin Drew is a singer, rapper and actor from London who goes by the name of “Plan B.” This is his third album. He’s one of those blue-eyed soul singers and white rappers doing more interesting things in the R&B and Hip Hop space than even a lot of black musicians. At the end of the day though, he simply has a great voice and a lot of interesting things to say.
4. VENTRILOQUISM by Meshell Ndegeocello – Normally, I don’t include an album, which is all cover songs. There were two this past year that were excellent. The other was Cher’s Dancing Queen, which was an entire record of Cher doing Abba songs. Cher was great but she was pretty faithful to the original Abba songs. I like this record because Ndegeocello re-interprets all the songs here in her own unique way. I particularly like her version of TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
3. BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU by Brandi Carlile – She’s up for Album of the Year and Best Americana Album at the 61st Grammy Awards. Her song “The Joke” is up for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song. This album is her sixth, studio album. It was co-produced by Dave Cobb who also produced Monroe’s album on this list and Chris Stapleton’s album, which was on my list last year.
2. BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM by Kendrick Lamar – This is the other album on this list that is movie-related. It is the soundtrack for the highest-grossing film of the year, inspired by the Marvel Comics character who is the African king of the fictional country of Wakanda. Lamar is obviously no stranger to the Grammy Awards. His last three albums were all nominated for Album of the Year. All three of those albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album and Lamar has also been nominated for Best Rap Song every year for the past three years. He’s won in those latter two categories several times in a row. He’s up for eight Grammys for this soundtrack. Most of those nominations are for his hit song “All the Stars.”
1. DIRTY COMPUTER by Janelle Monáe – She too is up for Album of the Year. She’s also nominated for Best Music Video. That’s it. She’s only up for two Grammy Awards. I wish she were up for more because I do believe this is the absolute best album of the year. According to Metacritic, most music critics agree with that sentiment. A lot of people may recognize her for her roles in two Oscar-nominated films, Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She’s great in both, but make no mistake her music is what’s truly incredible about her. This is her third, studio album. It along with her two previous albums are some of the most amazing work ever recorded.