The whole concept of the album changed a lot this year. For a while, the rise of music streaming platforms pushed artists to make longer (perhaps bloated?) albums to rack up more plays. In 2018, more focused albums — some would call them glorified EPs — like Pusha T’s Daytona and Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs got their turn in the spotlight rather than the hour-plus albums like Drake’s Scorpion. Here are some of our staff members’ picks for the best album of 2018.

Juice WRLD – Goodbye & Good Riddance

In a time where emotional rap-trap music is dominating the industry, Chicago artist Juice WRLD carves himself into the wood of the genre with his debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance.

Authenticity is critical to any artist achieving success, and Juice WRLD feels extremely true to himself in the way his album is delivered. There’s a certain feature of sharp pain in his voice that resonates with listeners and sticks with them after they’ve finished the project. The album resembles Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon albums in the sense that we’re seeing a cross-section of an insecure and hurting kid’s brain.

The Nick Mira-produced beats are irresistible, and Juice WRLD’s whiny and somewhat melodramatic lyrics never get old. In terms of a debut studio album, it’s one of the best in recent memory. If you’re looking to get in on the ground floor with a new artist before he really gets big, this is your guy.

— Evan Haynos, Diversions staff

Playboi Carti – Die Lit

“Made a mil’ off that, uh, off that mumblin’ shit/ Bought a crib for mama, off that mumblin’ shit,” Playboi Carti boasts on his debut album.

A song before, when the fuzziness of “Long Time (Intro)” starts, the energy for Die Lit is set. Whether you like it or not, or insist that all rappers have to sound like the golden children of Tupac and Biggie, mumble rappers are here — and they’re thriving.

With that being said, Carti is a golden child in his own right. There’s gravitation in his carefree repetition and short sentences, his tendency to play with his voice and the conviction with which he delivers his flexes. The erratic work of the producers and the superb chemistry of the features do the rest. Call it a crutch if you need to, but the 22-year-old’s methods are simple, effective and addictive.

— Ayana Archie, Diversions staff

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

Ariana Grande’s Sweetener reignited the spark in pop music this year. On this chart-topping album, Ariana chose to gracefully accept influences from today’s moment-defining genre, hip-hop, instead of just sticking to her typical pop-EDM roots, and it made all the difference. Certain tracks like “successful” and “the light is coming” are completely defined by trap music influence, while others like “R.E.M” and “everytime” have a cool, R&B feel.

Sweetener is a symbol of an artist on the upswing — Ariana hailed her own happiness and still detailed her struggles while providing a message of hope, empowerment and love to her millions of fans. Of course, in the months after the album’s release, Ariana dealt with the death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller and broke off her engagement to comedian Pete Davidson, but struggles only amplify Ariana’s artistic drive.

With a new album and highly-anticipated tour on the way, it’s clear Sweetener was only the beginning of Ariana’s continuing stint as a musical icon.

— Allison O’Reilly, Diversions staff

boygenius — boygenius

boygenius is a “supergroup” made up of indie rock sadgirls Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker. Their self-titled debut EP, released Oct. 26, brings together poetic lyricism and tight harmonies laid over a sense of sadness that makes your heart ache in the best way. The EP was written and recorded in just four days a testament to their immediate and obvious chemistry as a group. “Me & My Dog,” the standout track off the EP, tells the familiar tale of wanting to leave it all behind after a breakup.

“I wanna be emaciated/ I wanna hear one song without thinking of you/ I wish I was on a spaceship/ Just me and my dog and an impossible view.”

boygenius alternates between astonishing power and delicate vulnerability, staking their claim as the girl group we need and deserve in 2018.

— Emily Maurer, opinion columnist

Parquet Courts — Wide Awake!

Wide Awake! makes me want to punch someone, but in the best way possible. In that sense, it’s sort of like 2018 in album form.

Parquet Courts has never been afraid to break the mold; every release of theirs brings a new sound, or even a new name, as 2014’s Content Nausea brought us. This year, they made perhaps their most bold leap yet. They made a “woke” album — and it wasn’t cloying. Wide Awake! is a 38-minute righteous hodgepodge of punk, funk and classic indie rock. The album’s first two songs, “Total Football” and “Violence,” are every bit as vicious as their names suggest.

As frontman Andrew Savage yells on the latter, “Savage is my name because Savage is how I feel/ When the radio wakes me up with the words ‘suspected gunman.’”

2018 made me angry. It probably made a lot of you angry. But most of all, the year made me want to do something with all the madness. Wide Awake! lets me feel like I could do something with that energy, all the while rocking the fuck out.

— Arya Hodjat, managing editor