This may be the hardest one I have to decide. There’s just so much there. Better just jump right in.
Best Overall Album: “Dirty Computer” by Janelle Monae
Also, Best YouTube Video Artist
It’s extremely rare that I’m on the same musical wavelength as music critics, pop culture, and probably the Grammys if I’m guessing right. But sometimes they get it right. Janelle Monae deserves the hype in 2018. Arguably, she went pop this year and softened her sound for accessibility. But what does it mean when an Afrofuturist neo-soul auteur “goes pop”? Incredible, fun things happen. The theme of the album, as I understand it, is black female joy and the ability to have it. It’s political, but not just in a reactionary way. There’s a message of “I need to be able to be happy and sexual, because I’m human, and I’ll fight for that.” But let’s cut to the important bit: it’s a joy to listen to. The lyrics are inventive and fun, and so are the beats. It’s just the most fun album I’ve heard this year.
Now there’s a whole other thing to talk about with Dirty Computer. Janelle made a 45-minute music movie, called Dirty Computer [Emotion Picture]. It incorporates several music videos into a longer dystopian narrative, which is…okay. But the videos themselves are awesome. It’s worth seeing the whole thing once, just to see what she’s trying to do.
Best Rock/Metal Album: “Firepower” by Judas Priest
This was a tough category, but one album had the edge of just being consistent and consistently excellent. Judas Priest was back in a big way this year, with an album that sounds like classic Priest but with brand new songs. I had other albums excite me more in one way or another, but Firepower wins the war with consistent high quality and no filler. I can pop this in the car and expect excellence with no bullshit. Other good releases include new albums by Ghost and Amaranthe, “Kult 45” by Otep, and “The Fallen King” by Frozen Crown.
Best Rap/R&B: “Self Promotion” by Wale
Also, Best EP
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mX1xTyKepV0 (not embedded for language)
I’m honestly not the one to judge this. I listen to very little rap and R&B, so caveat emptor. That said, one thing comes to mind as probably my favorite EP in 2018: Wale’s “Self Promotion”. It was a brief, 4-track firecracker of good rap. It’s a mostly freestyled EP of sometimes political raps, that just follow his train of thought. I loved it. This is the Wale I want. A guy who throws caution to the wind, and just talks a lot of shit. No mumble-rap gimmicks here. Other great releases include Logic’s 2 projects and “Everything’s Fine” by Jean Grae and Quelle Chris.
Weird Pop/Elec Album: “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” by SOPHIE
There’s been this one album in 2018 that felt like an assault on my senses and challenged me in the pop genre. It was Sophie’s “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides”. I won’t tell you that I love every track, but this IS the pop album you would benefit most from me telling you about. Go give SOPHIE a try. She’s weird but oddly compelling. The last two tracks are a great way to start your day during the commute to work, BTW. Try it sometime.
Somehow Wildly Relevant Despite Having No Album or EP: Charli XCX
Also, Pop 2 is my 2017 album of 2018
Seriously, she’s hyperactive this year. She’s been on a tear of solid singles and features all year. That seems like a random observation, but it’s legitimately worth pointing out. Could this just be an excuse to post that video? We’ll leave such rhetorical meditations to the philosophers.
As for Pop 2, it’s far from perfect but is frequently fun as hell. There are some very skippable tracks in there, no doubt. But at its best, Pop 2 feels like a pop laboratory, where everyone involved is just having fun with pop production.
Best New Artist: Frozen Crown
Finally, an easy one. This isn’t even close for me. Every time a new power metal band forms, I can feel it in The Force. This Italian band has the most magical vocals, excellent guitar work, and they just know exactly what they’re doing all around. I don’t know how long each of these people have been in the game, but Frozen Crown is bringing fire on year one. I already love them to death.