Here is a list of the music I loved most in 2018.
These lists are a fun way for a music nerd to show some appreciation to the artists that made 2018 a little or a lot better. I’m sure there is some great stuff I missed, there always is. I am one person, look at how wrong certain websites that employ multiple people are in their lists. But anyway here are my favorites from 2018. Feel free to let me know yours!
Honorable Mention – Boygenius EP
So let’s start with this. It’s great but it isn’t on the list because it isn’t an album. It’s a six song EP. I’ve seen it on numerous best albums of the year lists and it shouldn’t be there. Sorry, including EPs on an album list is just laziness and I would never cheat you, loyal readers of entreaty.net. It is worth listening to for sure though. Three of the best young solo artists of the last couple of years Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus joining forces was one of the best surprises of the year. Throw it on next time you want to be sad.
Now on to the actual list:
25. To Drink From the Night Itself by At The Gates
The metal legends released their comeback album At War With Reality in 2014 after almost 20 years since disappearing after their masterwork Slaughter of the Soul came out in 1995. At War With Reality was shockingly good for a band that had been away for so long but now the novelty is gone and they are just a band again, playing places like Spartanburg. The follow up to the comeback is still quite good although not up there with the last two. The band’s sound shifted a lot in their original career but it looks like the Slaughter of the Soul sound that so many bands copied in the 2000s is now the At The Gates template. And that’s fine, they were the innovators and now they finally get to reveal in their success. There aren’t any surprises here but they do melodic death metal as good as anyone and better than most.
24. Fine But Dying by Liza Anne
This is the third album for Nashville’s Liza Anne but the first two are more folk and less rock than this. The louder tracks like Paranoia, Turn for the Worse, and I Love You But I Need Another Year interest me the most but there are still elements of her slower fare here as well. It will be interesting to see how she continues to develop as a songwriter.
23. Lost Friends by Middle Kids
Middle Kids just came onto the scene with their debut EP in 2017 and the standout song Edge of Town but it already seems like they’ve been around awhile. Even so this is just their first album. It continues the same sound as the EP, in fact it includes the exact versions of two songs that were already on the EP. Plenty of earworms to get stuck in your head and sing along to if you want. They have the kind of accessible but good material that I could see getting much bigger in the future instead of disappearing after the buzz is gone.
22. Burnt Sugar by Gouge Away
Gouge Away’s sound migrates a little more toward punk than the hardcore of their debut Dies but all the fury is still there. And what’s not to be furious about in 2018 really? Throughout the album front woman Christina Michelle is hurt, unsure of herself, feeling the pressure of the world hold her down but she doesn’t quit fighting and doesn’t stop being pissed at a society were “hurt is a commodity.” Many of 2018s best albums tried to soothe or give a much need distraction from the fucked up timeline we are living in but sometimes it feels good to confront the demons head on.
21. All At Once by Screaming Females
Of course there is never a bad time for some well crafted alternative rock. This could have come out in 1998, 2008, or now and it still would have the same timeless feel. You’ve got Marissa Paternoster who plays guitar like someone whose listened to plenty of Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr. and wails over it like Danzig or Davey Havok. I predicted I could see Middle Kids being a bigger band one day but for Screaming Females the better prediction is I could see them bashing out these exact songs in 20 years with a crowd of knowing people in a small venue loving every second of it.
20. Among the Ghost by Lucero
Lucero have been one of the best bands in the world for years now. Not that living a short drive from Memphis and seeing them numerous times over the years biased me or anything. One year at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis I had to decide between seeing Phoenix for the first time or Lucero for the 8th or 9th time. I went with Lucero because I figured they could easily play an entire set where every song is better than whatever Phoenix’s best song is. Their first six albums are some of my all time favorite music. Lately it seems front man Ben Nichols has settled down in life. He’s married and has a daughter. The title track on this album is about how hard it is for him to tour and leave his family behind. The band’s sound has gone from alt-country to something like modern classic rock if that makes sense. You could play this on your uncle’s favorite radio station between Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and it would make perfect sense. It’s good but if you’ve never jumped into Lucero’s catalogue before don’t start here, get Tennessee or Nobody’s Darlings.
19. On Dark Horses by Emma Ruth Rundle
I first heard of Emma Ruth Rundle when I saw her open for Deafheaven. It’s not as weird a pairing as it might initially seem. Take her vocals away and it’s not impossible to picture her music in a Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky song, and if you give Deafheaven and chance, you’ll know they have plenty of passages in their songs influenced by those style bands. When you add her vocals back in you get something that fits perfect and demands repeat listens.
18. Heaven by Dilly Dally
Dilly Dally is a fairly ridiculous name for this band. I’m not sure what kind of band should have the name Dilly Dally but I’m certain this isn’t it. Vocalist Katie Monks is the star here and her delivery is probably going to be take it or leave it for you. It somehow seamlessly goes back and forth between sugar coated and guttural howls. I’ve watched live videos on youtube and I’m amazed she can do it live. It’s not quite screaming, not quite singing. It’s damn impressive is what it is, probably painful too. Add in some crunchy guitars and nice lead parts on songs like Sober Motel and you get a really good album.
17. The Other Shore by Murder By Death
At this point in the list I’m begging to struggle with just how solid a year 2018 was for music. Murder By Death has been my favorite band for about 15 years and I like this album, but there’s just so much other great stuff from this year. Murder By Death has been criminally underrated for years. Right now if you go to Wikipedia and search for Murder By Death it takes you to a movie from 1976. That’s stupid. This is MBD’s eighth album, and I consider all seven prior albums to be great, this is the first one that I consider good. Their last album Big Dark Love was heavy stuff for a band that almost exclusively deal with heavy stuff. Singer Adam Turla dealt with the deaths of loved ones and mortality itself. So they probably needed a pallet cleanser. The Other Shore isn’t personal at all. It’s a sci-fi concept album about someone leaving the Earth before the apocalypse in search of a lost love that had already moved to another planet, and if that doesn’t cheer you up what will? I don’t want to sell this one short, it’s really good. Alas is right up there with their best material. But like Lucero you’ll probably want to start with some of the older material if you haven’t checked them out yet.
16. I Need to Start A Garden by Haley Henderickx
Haley Henderickx joins a group of young musicians playing slow sad lyric driven music lately. She seems to take some influence from Angel Olsen’s earlier work and while nobody has Angel’s voice Haley’s is not exactly shabby either. She’s able to carry these songs mostly alone, although she is joined by a trombone at points too. . . in these sad songs. . . . no. . . be strong. . . don’t say sad trombone. . . ahh damnit.
Seriously though this is good music.
15. Historian by Lucy Dacus
Not the first album but definitely the breakthrough for our only Boygenius to release an album this year. Lucy isn’t exactly cheer and sunshine but her songs are not quite as gut wrenching, “I hope they don’t kill themselves”, as Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers’s songs are. Luckily Historian came out earlier in the year so we could judge it on it’s own without the comparison to her now bandmates. Where Lucy tops Julien and Phoebe is musically. For the most part JB and PB have sparse subtle instrumentation and the focus is on the vocals and lyrics, and they are both great at what they do. Lucy is the only one that rocks or goes without vocals for a while. There are some great songs on here, Night Shift, Addictions, Timefighter, Pillar of Truth. Your music website would be quite suspect to leave her off your list and miss out on some of the best new music like that.
14. Sorpresa Familia by Mourn
Spain’s Mourn returned with an another good album this year. They play a not quite punk brand of rock. Think a less dancy Bloc Party maybe? They’re really good and almost no one was at their show in Atlanta when I went this year. Check them out.
13. Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett has rocketed up to the top of the indie rock food chain in the last five or so years and her second proper album does nothing to change that. Her earlier work was more introspective but now she’s. . . uh. . . telling us how she really feels. . . on songs like Nameless, Faceless in which she responds to anonymous internet commenters and misogynists at once. I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch sounds like a long lost Hole song saved to be released right when the world needed to hear it most. City Looks Pretty and Need A Little Time give her space to just play her guitar in addition to the lyrical prowess she’s become known for.
12. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs by Wye Oak
Wye Oak has been around for years but this might be their most complete album front to back yet. There is nothing here as good as their song Civilian but this album is packed with great music. The beginning of the album with Instrument, the title track, and Lifer is amazing. Like all of us Jenn Wasner struggles to cope with the idiotic situation the world in is and the fact that nothing seems to matter. Thankfully, Wye Oak is here to help us get through it all. Again, the fact that this didn’t even get into my top 10 shows how much great music we had this year.
11. Cheer by Drug Church
If Jenn from Wye Oak is helping us make sense of it all then Patrick Kindlon of Drug Church is the sarcastic smartass telling us it in fact doesn’t make sense and shouldn’t. The often satirical songs are packed with slice of life details and conversational lyrics that take us inside the often bad situations the characters of the songs deal with. Who can’t love a song with a line like “Fuck you, for 12.50 an hour I should have started a chemical fire”? Drug Church have also veered further away from hardcore and more toward punk and it suits them well. This is one of the more interesting bands in the underground.
10. 7 By Beach House
No points for creativity on the title or Beach House’s seventh album but they’ve released one of the best works of their career. Drunk in LA sounds absolutely majestic and Lemon Glow is like a chilled out Phantogram. There’s nothing here that’s fundamentally different from anything we’ve heard from Beach House before, it’s just better and it was never bad to begin with.
9. Loner by Caroline Rose
Look at that glorious album cover! Just look at it! It’s what got me to check out Caroline Rose’s music and I’m really glad it did. So far she has four goofy, bizarre music videos to go along with these songs and with her energetic live show she is a visual and performance artist as well as a musical one. All that aside, some of the remaining tracks on the album like More Of the Same, Animal, and Cry are as strong as the singles. A previous version of Caroline Rose played country leaning folk rock. That Caroline Rose is long gone. Is the chorus of the song Money (I did it all for the money) a confession? On Bikini she uses 60s style surf rock to satirize a music industry culture that objectifies women and on Jeannie Become a Mom see sets her eyes on suburbia. But the crown jewel of Loner is Soul No. 5. There’s an NPR tiny desk video of her playing a song called I Got Soul, it’s Soul No. 5 except it’s really, really not. At some point she made the decision to take that huge memorable chorus and put it with verses like:
I whisper at me I can’t hear you I say what
I don’t have a job but i got a lot of time
Baby show me yours and then maybe I’ll show you mine
8. abysskiss by Adrianne Lenker
It would have been crazy to expect Adrianne Lenker’s band Big Thief to release another great album after 2016’s Masterpiece and 2017’s Capacity so she didn’t ask them too, she just did it on her own. She carries the entire thing by herself, plucking her guitar and using her delicate voice, and her song writing is strong enough to pull it off. Adrianne is never afraid to get personal or dark and she’s contemplating her own death on the album opener and closer. She takes a close look at love on the songs in between, doing it all alone and pushing her voice to the limit and beyond at some points. We’re invited inside for an intimate look at her consciousness.
7. Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along
Hop Along’s second album Painted Shut was my 2015 album of the year and I haven’t stopped loving it a bit. It’s foremost quality is vocalist Francis Quinlan’s incredible pained, vocal chord shredding singing. Songs like Horseshoe Crabs hit so, so hard because of it, I compared her to Kurt Cobain in my review that year. On Bark Your Head Off, Dog she doesn’t sing with that delivery anymore. And while likely a good long term career move for her, my initial response to this album was disappointment. But I kept giving it a chance to hook me and it did. The rattle in her voice is missing but song writing isn’t. Not Abel and What the Writer Meant take us through turns and show that Francis’s lyrical ability is right where it always has been. More than once she uses the line “So strange to be shaped by such strange men.” That’s 2018 for you, what’s the point of just straight out saying “the president is a corrupt morally bankrupt conman” when it doesn’t matter and his supporters support him specifically because he is a corrupt morally bankrupt conman. Might as well be more subtle these days and save yourself the angst. Lead single and first song How Simple is great but the best is saved for last. Prior Things is probably the band’s best song now. It’s about seeing and being attracted to someone and doing nothing about it and the regret that brings. “No one knows I ever meant to leave my little lower road.” And as if it just occurred to her she could have tried after the fact “I’m still soft, it’s still my time.” Certainly one of the best songs of 2018.
6. Bottle It In by Kurt Vile
This is the Kurt Vile album I’ve always wanted. I like his singles but it’s always been his longer expansive songs like Goldtone and Wakin on a Pretty Day that I love the most. Bottle It In is stuffed with music, it’s the longest album on my list and there is nothing I’d cut. The longest songs Bassackwards, Bottle It In, and Skinny Mini are the best but the singles Loading Zones and One Trick Ponies are great too. This is pure distilled Kurt Vile at his most laid back and jokey. He starts One Trick Ponies by saying “Aww Shit,” President Obama put that song on his end of the year playlist and I love picturing him listening to it, hopefully he sings along to “Aww Shit” in his best Kurt Vile voice.
5. The Future and the Past by Natalie Prass
Natalie Prass’s music lies somewhere between R&B and jazz singer and her live show is fantastic. The Future and the Past is front to back great songs. It’s hard to single them out because all of them are good. I will pick a favorite though. Short Court Style was the song I told XMU was the song of the summer when they asked on their Faculty survey (it can’t possible surprise you that I reply to those) and they don’t even play Natalie Prass. They should though, she’s great.
Also the album title rhymes with her name and that’s cool.
4. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven
Deafheaven is the best band in metal right now full stop. You’ll find plenty of people that will argue with that and they are all wrong. (but if they say Power Trip they’re probably ok people) Ordinary Corrupt Human Love does however have the band moving further from black metal and more toward shoegaze. Maybe the scale is tipping and the next album will make them that shoegaze band that has some metal parts in their songs instead of vice versa. The melodic parts of the songs make the heavy parts sound that much more epic, the build ups and different parts keep the long songs from ever getting boring. George Clarke’s voice is best viewed as another instrument. I have no idea what he is saying on any Deafheaven song, they are about sound not the lyrical content. It’s never seemed important for me to look up what he’s saying either. Much like I can enjoy the sonicaly similar Japanese language band Envy without knowing what they are saying. Drummer Daniel Tracy is the MVP of the band, holding it all together and keeping up a brutal pace.
3. Cosmic Wink by Jess Williamson
Austin singer songwriter Jess Williamson was my favorite musical discovery of 2018.* Cosmic Wink is a collection of expertly written songs willing to get much deeper than most. It starts with the opener I See The White which is about the foreboding feeling that came from seeing the gray hair appear around her dog’s eyes. This causes her to contemplate mortality and what happens to us when we die in general. On Mama Proud she looks at the path she’s set for herself and knows she will go down even if it brings pain or disappointment to herself or loved ones. But it’s not all downcast, Dream State and Love on the Piano find her happy and appreciative to have love around her. Cosmic Wink is a short and addictive listen with songs you won’t get tired of.
2. Be The Cowboy by Mitski
Toughest album of the year decision in many years. Be The Cowboy is incredible. Mitski’s last album Puberty 2 was her breakthrough and one of the best albums of 2016 and this sounds nothing like it. In an interview on XMU she said she feels she is a people pleaser and to counteract that she takes the things people have praised about her work and makes sure not to do them again. Make no mistake, only a true artist could pull off something like that and actually get better. If this album had been Puberty 3 fans would have loved it, critics would have loved it, I certainly would have loved it and yet she did the hard thing and reinvented her sound. Not only is this different than her past work but songs of the album differ from each other. Opener Geyser is the only one with distorted guitar. That’s gone by the second song Why Didn’t You Stop Me replaced by an organ at the forefront of the song. Only two songs cross the 3 minute mark. Just as you get comfortable she’s moving on but this also keeps it interesting. Mitski is not the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by the cowboy who will then ride off into the sunset. Every song is about love gone wrong or at least not totally right. Are any of the characters in the songs Mitski? Are all of them? Is she hiding in plain site inside one or two of them? Geyser is a person bubbling with love. Why Didn’t You Stop Me is wondering why your partner didn’t protest so much when you broke it off. Old Friend is the other woman taking what she can get. A Pearl is not letting yourself be loved. Nobody is accepting yourself before anyone can love you. Two Slow Dancers is settling. On Me and My Husband Mitski ponders how all she’s felt and all she’s done will all be undone by death some day but it’s ok because she gets to spend her allotted time with the one she loves. It would be really sweet except if you know that Mitski has never been married. She not waiting around, she’s the one riding off into the sunset.
If this came out when I was lonely and single in my 20s it would be my album of the
1. Loma – self titled
In 2016 Shearwater took the band Cross Record on tour as their opener. After watching Cross Record on the tour Shearwater leader Jonathan Meiburg thought he’d like to to try writing songs with them. The husband and wife duo behind Cross Record Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski joined him in the studio and wrote enough that a whole new band was formed, Loma. (* I’m not counting this as a 2018 musical discovery since I was already well aware of Shearwater.) What they ended up with is a flawless album. There isn’t a sound I’d change on the album and there are a lot of sounds to dig into. This is the kind of album you keep finding new things in you hadn’t noticed before every time you listen. A hum here, a sound of a bird there. The music itself shaping your mood as you listen with Emily Cross’s voice guiding it along, taking it from soothing to anxious like opener Who Is Speaking into Dark Oscillations, from introspection to defiance like Shadow Relief into Black Willow. There are numerous sounds I can’t identify, samples, not of other songs, but of the buzz of a fan or rumble of machinery. Emily Cross’s singing is incredible, hitting notes most can’t but staying poised and restrained. You don’t picture her flailing her arms around and grimacing as she sings, you picture her standing perfectly still completely in control. This album is more than veteran musicians coming together for the first time though, it was also made during the disintegration of Cross and Duszynski’s marriage. Not just made during, but it according to an interview they gave NPR directly contributed to it. The most straight forward and heart wrenching song on the album is I Don’t Want Children, penned by Meiburg, it mourns the loss of the moments and life that will never exist because of the decision to go childless. Cross said the song made her start thinking or her relationship:
“I think what it did was spur that line of thinking, I guess — that way of following different possibilities down,” Cross says. “It injected a reflective atmosphere.” From NPR
It’s a powerful song and you could see how it would have that effect on someone. The band could have been doomed easily but fortunately the split was amicable enough that both members of the couple continued with Loma. The resulting work is a true album, the songs are fine on their own but they feed off each other and make the whole greater as a unit. You should start with the first song and listen to the end, once you start you won’t want to stop as it just gets better as it goes. The whole things builds to its final defiant song Black Willow where Emily and Jonathan sing in tandem:
“And I’m wild enough
I carry a diamond blade, I’m living on
All defenses down, and when I walk
I carry a diamond blade
When you said serve you
I will not”
Resolute, a fitting end and note to go out on. Considering the nature of side projects and the relationship between band members I assumed we’d never hear from Loma again. But I was wrong, on Wednesday they posted on social media that they will begin recording their second album in February. A great late Christmas gift for music fans.
Thanks for reading if you made it through. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the last year of the decade, and the albums of the decade lists!