By Mia Bowman
2018 was an exceptional year in the world of music. From rap music to country to alternative, artists seemed to be mastering masterpieces from left to right. Music is a key part of my day-to-day life, and these albums took up most of my earbud time this past year.
The Thrill of It All (Sam Smith)
Sam Smith's second album utilizes his crooning vocals along with flowing piano melodies to create yet another stunning collection of songs. Of course, it's very similar to his previous album, In The Lonely Hour, in its emotional ballads such as "Too Good at Goodbyes" and "Palace." And yet, you hear the artist's growth in "HIM," in which he is a gay man on "the streets of Mississippi," and states outright, "It is him I love." This is in stark contrast to Smith's lack of gender pronouns at all in In The Lonely Hour. Smith frequently uses choirs in songs such as the R&B-esque "Pray" and "HIM," which amplifies the theme of his inner conflict with sexuality versus religion throughout the album.
Top Song: "Too Good at Goodbyes"
Underrated Song: "HIM"
Black Panther (Kendrick Lamar, Various Artists)
Black Panther is undoubtedly one of the best movies of 2018, and its music must be included among the best of the year, as well. Produced by Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar and director of Black Panther Ryan Coogler, the album is inspired by the movie as much as possible. This is opposed to most movies, which use hardly identifiable thematic undertones within the film to create their soundtracks. These kinds of movies create a kind of "elevator music" in which the music just serves to amplify the action and to direct the audience's focus solely to the visuals. Black Panther's music draws the audience not just into the scene, but the music, as well, allowing them to make their own conclusions as to how the two correlate. Among the best songs are the pop-ish "All the Stars" and "Pray for Me," featuring SZA and the Weeknd, respectively. Marvel sets the standard with this daring and diverse soundtrack.
Top Song: "All The Stars"
Underrated Song: "Redemption"
Dirty Computer (Janelle Monàe)
Janelle Monáe defines her identity to the world in this synth-packed album. Analogous to The Thrill of It All, Dirty Computer harps on the toxicity Monáe is exposed to as a queer woman of color. The most popular tune on the album, "Make Me Feel," combines tongue clicks with its loud-and-proud LGBTQ lyrics to create a dance club anthem combined with a sock-sliding bedroom jam. The album as a whole frees Monáe as an African-American woman in the music industry, where queer women are few and far between.
Top Song: "Make Me Feel"
Underrated Song: "Pynk (feat. Grimes)"
4. High as Hope (Florence + the Machine)
This album just barely makes my top 10 list, but Welch's dulcet tones continue to surprise me in High as Hope. "Grace" is an apology to her younger sister, and almost approaches jazz before the entrance of the usual choir. Her voice carries her through this album, examples being "Sky Full of Song" and "No Choir." One of the biggest reasons I put High As Hope on this list is that her themes stay the same within each of her albums. Of course, I enjoy said themes, but this album is for those of you who have listened to the band from the beginning.
Top Song: "Sky Full of Song"
Underrated Song: "100 Years"
Sweetener (Ariana Grande)
Grande's fourth album caused lots of controversy, disappointing newcomers while giving lifelong fans just what they asked for. Sweetener is a culmination of Grande's tumultuous two years post-Dangerous Woman. May 2017's terrorist attack on her Manchester concert left 22 dead and hundreds injured, and turned Grande's world and career upside down (just look at the album cover). The final track, "Get Well Soon," has 40 seconds of silence to close out the song, making the runtime of the tune 5:22, which matches the date of the Manchester concert on May 22nd. Songs such as "Breathin" and "Get Well Soon" speak to her anxiety following the death of Mac Miller, her ex-boyfriend, and the Manchester bombing. "R.E.M." twists panting and tongue clicks into a foot-tapping groove, while "God Is a Woman" is a smooth Feminist anthem for the decade. Grande was under an immense amount of pressure when creating Sweetener, and she delivered.
Top Song: "God Is a Woman"
Underrated Song: "Get Well Soon"
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Various Artists)
Yet another Marvel album makes my top 10. The newest Spider-Man movie is an animated roller coaster, taking enormous risks with its animation style and succeeding. The album itself isn't exactly the same as Black Panther, but its style is very similar. The movie opens with the main character, Miles Morales, hum-singing "Sunflower," a feel-good tune which set the tone for the remainder of the movie. "What's Up, Danger" plays when Morales first puts on the new black-and-red suit, and instills a more serious tone for the final scenes. One of the most influential tracks has to be "Familia," which directly references Miles himself and talks about the close bonds of a family, despite Miles's father's harsh parenting. The music of the movie yet again makes the movie twice as great as it already was.
Top Song: "Sunflower"
Underrated Song: "Home"
Little Dark Age (MGMT)
Many alternative fans consider MGMT's Oracular Spectacular to be the best alternative album of all time, containing instant classics such as "Electric Feel" and "Youth." Eleven years later, the band has released Little Dark Age. The band's signature synth remains a centerpiece of the pop/psychedelic album. The '80s synth-packed title track is more accessible to those still attached to Oracular Spectacular, and "Me and Michael" is one of the happier songs on the album. "One Thing Left to Try" establishes itself as the "Youth" of the album. For those of you who enjoyed Oracular Spectacular, Little Dark Age is a continuation of MGMt's '80s, synth-filled alternative headbangers.
Top Song: "Me and Michael"
Underrated Song: "When You Die"
Golden Hour (Kacey Musgraves)
I've never been one to listen to country music, but Kacey Musgraves's Golden Hour is just enough folk for me to take a listen to it, and I'm glad that I did. It's a good introduction to Musgraves' music for those who have never listened to her music. Her mellow combination of country and pop creates simple yet thoughtful tunes such as "Butterflies," a harmonic, lovesick song that leans more towards pop than country. One of the most pop-influenced songs is "High Horse," which still contains country undertones but brings in a new disco aspect in the verses. An album like this is meant for a rainy day in bed, like "Space Cowboy" and "Happy & Sad," but still has songs meant for dancing to, such as the aforementioned "High Horse." Kacey explores the limits of country music in an intriguing and exciting way that will make you keep listening.
Top Song: "Butterflies"
Underrated Song: "Love Is a Wild Thing"
Chris (Christine and the Queens)
Christine and the Queens skyrocketed to alternative fame with their song "Tilted," yet again combining the popular panting with a strong backbeat and a little French rapping. Lead singer Hélöise Letissier brings her own androgynous persona, Chris, into the forefront in Chris, a daring album of emotional exploration. In "Girlfriend," she asserts her position as a lover rather than a girlfriend in a streamy lead single. Letissier combines modern pop with daring punk in the entire album, especially in tracks like the feminist "Damn (What Must a Woman Do)" and the more punk "Feel So Good." Chris explains Letissier's previous suicidal tendencies due to bullying and sexual assault. Powerful lyrics paired with Letissier's commanding voice and punk style make for an album everyone can find intriguing.
Top Song: "Doesn't Matter"
Underrated Song: "The Walker"
10. I'm All Ears (Let's Eat Grandma)
Two 17-year-old girls make yet another stunning album titled I'm All Ears. The title track, "Falling Into Me," is a daring, disco anthem with provocative and powerful lyrics. You can hear the youth in the girls' voices, and their lyrics almost seem too old for their age. "Hot Pink" is a quick, anger-filled pop headbanger on the femininity of neon drugstore lipstick, switching between sultry and seething. "Missed Call (1)" may be a filler track, but it leads the listener into the more mellow "I Will Be Waiting." One of my personal favorites, "Cool and Collected," is one of those songs to cry in bed to while "Donnie Darko" has just the right mix of passion and thoughtfulness. LEG's newest album is far more nuanced and slightly bolder than their previous work, and I hope their next steps follow the same path.
Top Song: "Falling Into Me"
Underrated Song: "Cool and Collected"