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?