15. Kevin Abstract — Arizona BABY
It’s a little surprising how BROCKHAMPTON frontman Kevin Abstract was able to drop a better overall project than GINGER. Though heavily inspired by his work in the group, Arizona BABY is still manages to remain distinct enough to stand alone as manic statement on Kevin’s life.
Outwardly depressing and deeply personal, the record is Kevin Abstract airing out all his grievances. While sonically, it shares much of the same DNA as the other BROCKHAMPTON albums, through the use of pitch shifts and unconventional song structures. It proves that though Kevin is the de-facto soul of the group, his core role in the boyband has only made his solo material that much better.
14. Little Simz — GREY Area
The best rapper in the UK right now, Little Simz previous projects have always been conceptually dense while lacking on the musical front. On GREY Area, not only does she bridge the gap between them, Simz also goes above and beyond to create one of the best rap records of the decade.
Backing herself with punchy production that accentuates her themes about coming-of-age, the record becomes that much more confident and bombastic, leaving listeners with a rapper that’s in complete control of their artistic vision.
13. Caroline Polachek — PANG
PANG is art-pop at its finest. Naming the album after the bursts of adrenaline that shook her out of her sleep, Caroline Polachek crafted PANG to reflect these sudden shocks of emotion, largely centered around the theme of love.
Taking notable influences from classical and orchestral music, Polachek weaves in elements of contemporary pop and dance to create a record that sounds outside of time while also remaining familiar. PANG is a gorgeous record in every sense of the word.
12. James Blake — Assume Form
Assume Form is James Blake’s most accessibly mainstream album, but that doesn’t mean it’s less layered or stunning than his previous ‘artsier’ work. Diving head first into hip-hop and pop influences, the record is a welcome offering of a man heads-over-heels for his partner.
Each track more endearing than the last, Blake ensures that the sonic palette of the album matches up with the themes of love and devotion. With help from collaborators such as Rosalia and Travis Scott, Assume Form is as multi-layered as real life relationships are.
11. Billie Eilish — WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
After one of the most meteoric rises in recent memory, all eyes were on Billie Eilish to live up to the hype her legion of fans have set on her. And live up to them she did. Ditching the formulaic sounds and structures of modern pop music, Billie and her brother Finneas instead craft a record that builds upon the dark aesthetic that she hinted at on dont smile at me.
Drenching the album in dark, atmospheric and booming production that paradoxically works in perfect tandem with her whisper-y vocals. Yet the true star of WWAFA, WDWG is Billie’s lyricism. It’s mind-boggling how affective her writing is, almost completely overshadowing the fact she’s only 18 and has her whole career ahead of her.
10. Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next
I initially claimed that Billie Eilish had a better album than Ariana at the start of the year, but Thank U, Next is a project that has only gotten better with time. Basking contemporary pop music within established trap and hip-hop trends, it fuses the genres for a result that’s unconventionally familiar.
Her most cohesive project yet, Ariana balances her powerful vocals alongside her newfound rap-like delivery that she dabbled with on Sweetener. It’s a project where she has finally carved out a sound of her own, inspired by her contemporaries while also staying true to her roots.
9. Kota The Friend — FOTO
Kota the Friend’s brand of hip-hop isn’t be for everyone. Over the course of its 19 tracks, he dives head first into laid-back, almost lo-fi sounds without ever once switching it up. Instead, the focus of the project lies in his lyricism and songwriting strengths.
Flexing his storytelling abilities and also his dedication to stick to a singular sound, FOTO is much more coherent and stronger because of it. Despite the record’s low energy, Kota’s effortless delivery is more than enough to carry the entirety of the project.
8. Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated
Emotion has been gaining its just dues with its inclusion on multiple best-of-decade lists, so it’s only natural that her follow-up record is on par and, at moments, even better than it.
Similarly inspired by pop music of the past, Carly Rae Jepsen performs every song with a type of infectious confidence that transforms Dedicated to an album of pure joy. Essentially a spiritual successor to Emotion, this project quietly solidifies Jepsen as one of pop’s best acts right now.
7. Charli XCX — Charli
PC music is the future of pop music and Charli is the sound’s biggest attempt at making it mainstream. Expanding upon traditional pop structures while embracing unconventional production styles, Charli XCX is operating on her own terms as she innovates without alienating her audience.
Bringing in a flurry of collaborators, the album is unapologetic in its endeavor to usher in a new age of pop music. Using abrasive electronic production and excessive use of auto-tune, Charli grounds the record with her endearing songwriting with themes of love and heartbreak.
6. Danny Brown — uknowhatimsayin¿
Danny Brown went from eccentric rap figure to hip-hop elder statesman within the span of one record, and that change couldn’t have come at a better time. Enlisting the help of Q-Tip, El-P, JPEGMAFIA and more, Danny dives head first into his under-explored lyrically-heavy side of his career.
Choosing to place the focus on himself instead of the production, uknowhatimsayin¿ sees Danny Brown at his most personal without the depressive themes that used to define a majority of his career. His best album so far, positive Danny is best Danny.
5. Baby Rose — To Myself
Smooth like a warm glass of wine, Baby Rose’s debut is a tour dé force that places her powerhouse of a voice front and centre. It’s almost impossible to mention Rose without bringing up her one-of-a-kind vocals but her heart rending lyrical content deserves a mention as well, since they are what inspires her performances in the first place.
This video alone should explain her talent better than I ever could.
4. JPEGMAFIA — All My Heroes Are Cornballs
JPEGMAFIA is the living embodiment of a cult personality, his penchant to provoke and push boundaries exudes a twisted magnetic charm that you can’t help but look at. On All My Heroes Are Cornballs, he doubles down on the melodic aspects of Veteran to create a record that’s both accessible and unapproachable.
Going from calm to aggressive at a flip of a switch, JPEGMAFIA’s sound is hard to define, yet it’s his tendency to poke fun at anything and everything that acts as the icing on the cake. Perfectly fitting the role of an anarchist, JPEG is a one of a kind star that could only have been produced by society today.
3. Hobo Johnson — The Fall of Hobo Johnson
I’m not a fan of The Fall of Hobo Johnson‘s lyrical content. What I am a fan of, is the way he presents this lyrics and themes to his listeners. Employing a spoken-word delivery, Johnson’s voice trembles and breaks as he rambles on about themes of isolation, heartbreak and depression.
Accompanying him is production that varies from lo-fi hip-hop to indie pop to full on nu-metal, all of which Johnson is able to glide effortlessly over. It’s an album that I see as a perfect storm, like listening to a man beautifully self-implode over the course of 50 minutes before eventually coming to terms with his own insecurities by the very end.
2. Stella Donnelly — Beware of the Dogs
Hailing from Australia’s Perth, Stella Donnelly’s music sounds inconspicuous on first listen. The instrumentals backing her are quiet, only emerging every now and then to inject life into the tracklist when needed. Yet it is Stella’s voice that is acts as both the heart and soul of Beware of the Dogs.
Muted yet powerful, Stella is captivating and heartening when belting about relationships and heartbreak. Her strongest quality, however, is her writing. Finding humour in situations that call for solemnity, Stella Donnelly’s debut is her stamp on the music industry as one of its best up and coming singer-songwriters.
1. Tyler, the Creator — IGOR
Listening to IGOR is the equivalent to watching your favourite TV show character develop across 6 seasons. Tyler, the Creator’s evolution from angry rap nerd to musical mastermind has been done to death already, but this album is proof that improvement is always possible when done incrementally.
From the opening thumps of “IGOR’S THEME”, to the sparkling melancholy of “RUNNING OUT OF TIME”, to the beautifully tragic “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU“; Tyler crafted one of the best breakup albums of the decade as he runs through an entire relationship while bringing listeners every step of the way.
IGOR is confident in its one of a kind sound, pulling all the best elements of every prior record into an amalgamation of sheer refinement. It is the greatest record of Tyler, the Creator’s career thus far.