Best Music of 2018

It’s list-making time again. 2018 was a momentous year for me. I got cancer, fell in love, and won a cross-country train trip. And those are just the highlights (and one lowlight).

I can’t really explain it, but Janelle Monae‘s Dirty Computer hit hard and immediately. Her queer and sex-positive brand of “black girl magic” lodged itself in this old nerdy white guy’s heart and hasn’t let go. I still can’t listen to the whole record without tearing up multiple times. Seeing her live this summer was also a highlight of my year.

I was just lukewarm on Wild Nothing‘s last release, 2016’s Life of Pause, so I was delighted that this year’s Indigo felt like a return to form for them. Lots of hooks on the new record, for those that like a bit of nostalgic ’80s-’90s stuff with a mixture of guitars and electronics.

I was also impressed with Leon Bridges evolution. Though some were critical of his move away from the pure soul sounds of 2015’s Coming Home, I think he’s smart leaving behind the gorgeous but simple imitation of soul artists like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. His new record feels more like he’s being himself.

I’ve been a fan of Julien Baker‘s since the beginning, and after discovering Phoebe Bridgers (thanks to an opening slot on Baker’s last tour), I was immediately onboard with boygenius, their “supergroup” with Lucy Dacus. Even better was seeing them live, with individual sets from all three young songwriters, followed by an encore set as a group. I hope this project has more in store.

I can thank my friend Tom Hall for alerting me to Natalie Prass. Despite looking like the nerdiest white girl ever on the album cover, Prass creates some gorgeous R&B style music that’s worth discovering.

I’ve backed off on the metal in recent years, but 2018 still had new releases from a couple of my favourites. Tribulation put out the better of the two I’ve included, and I think it’s the more accessible for the non-metal fan as well. Despite that, I’ve included At The Gates in my Top Ten as well. It’s impressive that since their return in 2014 after a long absence, they’re continuing to make compelling music.

I think The Essex Green was a random eMusic discovery, but I enjoyed their eclectic brand of pop. This record also marks a return after a 12-year absence. I can only hope they don’t wait another dozen years to bring us more new music.

Dream Wife were a blast of fun female punk energy in a year where #MeToo seemed to remind us how much crap women have to endure. I’ve always loved strong women with guitars, and this trio brought some swagger with songs like “Let’s Make Out” and “Spend the Night.”

Tracyanne and Danny marked the return of Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. Her bandmate Carey Lander’s 2015 death brought that band to an abrupt end and it’s nice to hear Tracyanne’s lovely voice in a new collaboration.

As always, music helped me through this year’s highs and lows. Seeing several of these bands live also rejuvenated my belief that music is as essential to my life as food, oxygen, and love.

Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
Wild Nothing - IndigoLeon Bridges - Good Thing
boygenius - boygenius (EP)Natalie Prass - The Future and the PastTribulation - Down Below
The Essex Green - Hardly ElectronicDream Wife - Dream WifeTracyanne and Danny - Tracyanne and DannyAt The Gates - To Drink From The Night Itself

In list form, if you’re not visually inclined:

  1. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
  2. Wild Nothing – Indigo
  3. Leon Bridges – Good Thing
  4. boygenius – boygenius (EP)
  5. Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past
  6. Tribulation – Down Below
  7. The Essex Green – Hardly Electronic
  8. Dream Wife – Dream Wife
  9. Tracyanne and Danny – Tracyanne and Danny
  10. At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself

Honourable Mentions (unranked):

  • Matthew Sweet – Tomorrow’s Daughter
  • Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain
  • Ume – Other Nature
  • Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

And some 2017 releases I discovered in 2018:

  • Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps
  • Ryan Adams – Prisoner

Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger in the AlpsRyan Adams - Prisoner

Just for fun, here are some of my previous lists:

How about you? What were some of your favourites?

2 thoughts on “Best Music of 2018”

  1. 0h 2018…

    James I hope you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts here.

    I’ve been a music fan/collector for 40 years now, but i think this might have been the very first year I never set foot in a music store.

    I’m so lost when it comes to new releases. I believe this was the year that I really turned to Spotify for most of my music listening, but maybe I’m not using correctly. It didn’t take long to hit the “epic collection dude” warning, and while I sometimes just shuffle through this far-from-complete collection of mine, I also listen a fair bit to the “Made for Ronald” playlists. But i never had any clue what was going on musically in 2018… until the last week pretty much. I was done with my Christmas playlist, so I started listening to a couple of 2018 playlists I stumbled upon, and i decided at the last second to find/compile some 2018 music I liked. I used to live for putting together my Top Albums of the Year ranked lists back in the 80’s, and listen to end of the year countdowns, and keep printed copies to peruse years later. But these days, I can’t recall the last time I did a year-end list, 1992 maybe? And honestly, there’s only a handful of albums from the last 20 years that I could confidently give the year of release for even.

    So, 2018… turns out Arcade Fire and The National didn’t put out albums this year, those were 2017. I did know that Jeff Tweedy put out a solo album (and a book, heard about that first actually) and he’s a music god in my books, so while I haven’t played it end to end in a single setting yet, I’ve heard enough to say (…looks up album title on Spotify…) WARM has a spot on my 2018 Top Ten.

    I poked around (Spotify) and discovered, belatedly, that the following contemporary artists that I love put out albums in 2018 that, dammit, I should’ve been notified about immediately and been listening to a lot this year:
    – The Decemberists
    – Josh Rouse
    – interpol
    – Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura
    – Neko Case
    – Beach House
    – Kurt Vile
    – Parquet Courts
    But alas, I’m lost in the modern world of music distribution and discovery, and setting notifications apparently.

    But speaking of discovery, here is a list of albums (and aside from one, artists themselves actually) that i discovered the last week of 2018 and I’ve been listening to and enjoying over the last two weeks. Listed in the order of being added to my Ronald P’s 2018 public playlist:
    Ruins, First Aid Kit
    In a Poem Unlimited, U.S. Girls
    self-titled, La Force
    Stains on Silence, Girls Names
    Future Me Hates Me, The Beths
    Bunkbed, The Night Cafe
    Cool Like You, Blossoms
    Tales from the Backseat, The Academic
    Rockpool Blue, Sea Pinks
    Empty Words, Whyte Horses
    Record, Tracey Thorn (I was never a huge fan of hers but do like Love Not Money (When All’s Well is an absolute masterpiece) and her Christmas album – I really like what I’ve heard so far from this album)

    Anyway, that’s 20 2018 albums I think might be my favourites of the year. I’ll need some more time to distill it down to a Top Ten, and to even remember album names, and even longer to make a ranked list if I ever do. And in the meantime, I’ll probably stumble across additional great 2018 releases. Like much of James’ list here. Matthew Sweet put out an album? The Essex Green? I’ve heard of them, I seem to recall I like them.

    Happy listening everyone! Enjoy your music as best you can.

    1. Thanks, Ron! I love Girls Names and seem to recall hearing they’d put out a record this year but I never tracked it down. Now, I will. Some other stuff I recognize on your list and a few I don’t. Not really being a Spotify or Apple Music listener, I still usually track stuff down one album at a time. Looking forward to Sharon Van Etten’s new one. coming out later this month, but beyond that, I don’t know what 2019 will hold. There’s enough from last year to keep me busy until 2020. Like films, the new release firehose is often overwhelming.

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