Time once again for my annual best-of music review! Each year, I pick my ten favorite new albums of the year, where “new” means new to me, not necessarily released this year. Any albums I bought in the calendar year are eligible for the list, regardless of when they were released.
Here are my 2018 selections, in alphabetical order by artist (I pick the top ten, but I don’t order them further than that). A playlist of all these albums is on Spotify.
Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett – An oddly weak opening track is followed by another solid album from this amazing singer-songwriter. Her collaboration with Kurt Vile wasn’t my bag, so I was glad her solo material returned to the clever lyrics, rocking songs, and Australian accent that made her debut one of the best of 2015. And no surprise that she sounds as good live as she does on her records. (concert pic)
Hell-On, Neko Case – Another repeat artist on the list, Ms. Case gets the hat trick following her last two albums’ appearances (Middle Cyclone in 2009 and The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You in 2013). I’ve only seen her live at ACL Fest, but will rectify that in February at Bass Concert Hall.
Historian, Lucy Dacus – The repeats continue with Lucy Dacus’ second full-length album. More down-tempo than the one that was a best-of just last year, this one took a little while to grow on me. But the lyrics and her voice are as good as ever. I already have tickets to see her again (the day after Neko Case, as it happens).
Bark Your Head Off, Dog, Hop Along – Their sound and lyrics as distinctive as ever, this band is becoming a real favorite. They put on a great show, and this is every bit as good as their previous album (a 2017 best-of). I also picked up their 2012 release, Get Disowned, which I found to be more of a mixed bag (see “Best of the Rest”, below). (concert pic)
Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe – Finally, a debut artist on this year’s list. I’ve liked her music since 2007’s Metropolis, and really appreciated the concept albums she’s put together. But they also all have some low spots, and I rarely find myself listening to them in their entirety. Her latest is less concept, and more consistent throughout, in my book. We saw her at ACL Fest, and her show was fantastic. (concert pic)
Art of Doubt, Metric – Following 2012’s Synthetica (a best-of that year), 2015’s Pagans in Vegas was good, but didn’t crack the top ten. Despite a late-in-the-year release, I’ve really enjoyed this latest from the Canadian indie-rockers. Here’s hoping they headline their own darn tour and stop opening for other, lesser bands (Smashing Pumpkins, pshaw).
One, Moving Panoramas – And here, at last, is a brand new (to me) band making it’s top-ten debut. This is an Austin-area group that opened at a Wye Oak concert I saw late last year. The dreamy, chill synth-pop makes this album the kind where particular tracks don’t really stand out, which in their case is not a criticism. They have new music coming out early in 2019 (One was released three years ago), and I can’t wait to hear it. (concert pic)
Don’t Be a Stranger, Nervous Dater – Another debut artist, this is just a fun, rollicking indie band. Perhaps their Bandcamp bio puts it best: “A Brooklyn band that is the music equivalent of finding out aliens are real but the documents are covered in T Bell fire sauce.” Or perhaps not.
Maps, Soft Science – The last brand-new artist in this year’s best ten, with a really lovely sound. Somewhat shoe-gazey, but with propulsive rhythms that keep you nodding along, rather than nodding off. I’m looking forward to what else this band gives us, and I’ll be digging in to their back catalog while I wait.
Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz – Last, but hell no not least, here’s another band making their third appearance in my annual best-ofs. First was Major Arcana on my 2014 list, then Foil Deer in 2017, and they just keep getting better. I also got to see their consistently great live show again this year. (concert pic)
That’s it for my ten favorite “new” albums of 2018.
And then there are all the rest of the albums. To complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut, ordered not alphabetically, but in the best mixtape order I can manage. This “Best of the Rest” (minus the song from the 1992 Curve album) is also a playlist on Spotify.
- A Beginning Song – The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World † ‡
- Act My Age – Dream Wife, Dream Wife
- Wish You Dead – Curve, Doppelgänger
- Go Loving – The Joy Formidable, AAARTH
- Never Giving In – Jenn Champion, Single Rider
- Become the One – Goldfrapp, Silver Eye
- Little Girl Blue and The Battle Envy – Skating Polly, The Make It All Show
- It Probably Matters – Interpol, Marauder † ‡
- Fire Drills – Dessa, Chime
- Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino – Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino †
- Singer’s No Star – Waxahatchee, Great Thunder †
- Cake – Wussy, What Heaven Is Like
- You of All People – Wye Oak, The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs † ‡
- Buenas Noches, Desolación – Julieta Venegas, Algo Sucede
- Ben Franklin’s Song – The Decemberists, Ben Franklin’s Song †
- Bummertown – Lola Tried, Lola Tried † ‡
- Jeannie Becomes A Mom – Caroline Rose, LONER † ‡
- Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes – The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl †
- Patricia – Florence + The Machine, High As Hope
- Night – Zola Jesus, Stridulum
- Let It Go – The Black Ryder, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride
- Vulture – She Keeps Bees, Dig On
- Kids On the Boardwalk – Hop Along, Get Disowned †
- Tea-Soaked Letter – Anna Burch, Quit the Curse † ‡
- Miracle – CHVRCHES, Love Is Dead
- Medley (The Hermit/The Flame Still Burns/Gold and Green/Living in the Country) – Ace of Cups, Ace of Cups
† – saw band live this year
‡ – link to concert pic
Past years’ bests: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017