2018 was a year that never ended. People made a lot of music and did a lot of other things. People say a revolution is coming. A panel of experts did not make this list. These are just some recordings that I really enjoy. If you agree with me, that’s nice. If you disagree, that’s okay too. I love you all, but not equally. Just kidding, I hate a lot of you. Here’s a hierarchy I made about music from the past twelve months. Hope u like it ❤
50 • Eric Whitacre • Deep Field
Eric Whitacre has released some godawful music in the last few years, including a profoundly cringeworthy rendition of The Star Spangled Banner that I shortlisted in my very selective “Worst Songs of 2018” playlist. Shockingly in 2015 the cluster king managed to create something remotely original—a stunning slow-burner that gives John Luther Adams a run for his money. The Proms-premiered orchestral trip remained under wraps as a studio release until this year. Featuring some wicked filthy bitonality and a notable lack of annoying clusters, it’s absolutely worth 23 minutes of your time.
♫ LISTEN: “Deep Field”
49 • Paul McCartney • Egypt Station
Arguably the most versatile and enduring Beatle refuses to be dated in his latest album, hailed by critics as shockingly fresh in 2018. Egypt Station is as sexy as it is sincere and as playful as it is political.
♫ LISTEN: “Dominoes”
48 • Dirty Projectors • Break-Thru
Dirty Projectors serves up a mixture of unidentifiable synthetic twitterings and grungy, distorted samples mixed with the pure, simple tones of a harmonica and clean electric guitar in “Break-Thru,” while the vocals are dynamic, expressive, and acrobatic in this genre-bending earworm.
♫ LISTEN: “Break-Thru”
47 • French Horn Rebellion & DeModa • Into You
The “classically trained” duo is at it again this time with a typically club-ready collab with DeModa. “Into You” has a delicious bass drop, creamy vocoder, and a genuinely unusual yet singable melody.
♫ LISTEN: “Into You”
46 • Alela Diane • Cusp
Alela is just so tired—so tired of staying at home, tired of traveling, tired of singing to a half-filled bar, tired of being on stage. Yet she always comes when called—FOMO has its grip on Alela. Cusp is a thoughtful, contemplative album that tells the hard story of urban exhaustion and social anxiety through the wistful simplicity of folk music.
♫ LISTEN: “So Tired”
45 • Alice Boman • Heartbeat
Millions of stars, but one heartbeat—both in flames. Alice Boman lives large and hot in a “mist of neon lights.” Her music is an existential question and a slow, beautiful burn.
♫ LISTEN: “Heartbeat”
44 • Son Lux • Forty Screams
Son Lux is not an easy listen; if I had to compare the music to a visual experience, it would be Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement.” In this latest work the composition is colorful, sublime, imposing, yet intimately detailed and expressive.
♫ LISTEN: “Forty Screams”
43 • Brad Mehldau • After Bach
Ah, Bach, the infinite wellspring of inspiration. Mehldau’s concept album is the closest thing to a solo piano “remix” of a classical composer as you can get. His compositions are baroque in their own right but also deeply postmodern: thrillingly dramatic amid intricate precision.
♫ LISTEN: “Rondo”
42 • NSTASIA • New Religion (Stripped)
The original (2017) version of “New Religion” was already more or less a stripped down mix, showcasing NSTASIA’s flawless, sexy vocals in a rich display. The “stripped” re-release this year is actually a new recording with more nonchalant syncopations and groovier basslines.
♫ LISTEN: “New Religion”
41 • POP ETC • I Still See It
Somehow both sad and groovy at the same time, POP ETC gets as close to a contemporary resurrection of city pop as any artist in 2018.
♫ LISTEN: “I Still See It”
40 • Jeremy Messersmith • Late Stage Capitalism
Cutie-pie Jeremy Messersmith just keeps getting better and better, and more darling all the while. Self-deprecating yet confident and endearing; if his latest album were a Tinder profile, no one would ever swipe left.
♫ LISTEN: “Postmodern Girl”
39 • The Aces • Lovin is Bible
Despite some unfortunate pitch-modulated voices in the intro, “Lovin is Bible” is a genuine banger. I’ve always been a sucker for theological puns (see Børns’s “Holy Ghost”) and The Aces bring some great biblical references to this backseat-with-the-windows-down jam.
♫ LISTEN: “Lovin is Bible”
38 • Voces8 • Equinox
For choral ensembles, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and the most glamorous ensemble in the classical choral world is no stranger to this concept. Voces8 released a masterfully recorded holiday concept album this year that shows the full range of their vocal abilities (which are nothing short of extraordinary). Use headphones for this one.
37 • Novo Amor • Birthplace
Novo Amor will always hold a special place in my heart. His music sounds like the rolling hillsides of the midwest, maybe because Wales is the midwest of Europe. Either way, even though John Meredith-Lacey’s birthplace is not my birthplace, his album feels like roadtrips, rural landscapes, and the joy of discovering the beauty of your own home.
♫ LISTEN: “Birthplace”
36 • Ray LaMontagne • To the Sea
Ray is a man of many talents and has mastered more than a few genres. His latest album spans shows off his versatility and uncanny knack for pastiche. In “To the Sea,” he graces us with a near-perfect replica of the style and spirit of Joni Mitchell.
♫ LISTEN: “To the Sea”
35 • Moses Sumney • Make Out in My Car
Moses Sumney isn’t trying to go bed with ya, but you shouldn’t really mind if he is (you’d have to be crazy to mind). In his “chameleon suite” he creates four versions of the same song and they’re all brilliant. Moses’s effortless, celestial vocals soar above lush orchestrations. Obviously the Sufjan Stevens version is my favorite.
♫ LISTEN: “Make Out in My Car (Sufjan Stevens version)”
34 • Great Lakes Swimmers • Alone but Not Alone
Great Lakes Swimmers always sound familiar yet clean & fresh like a tastefully decorated but cozy living room. “Alone but Not Alone” has some really nice lyrical/poetic moments like “contemplate the measure of the sea / think about the work ahead of me.” A thoroughly enjoyable all-purpose track.
♫ LISTEN: “Alone but Not Alone”
33 • Allie X • Focus
Allie X is the zenith of contemporary pop. The beats are immaculately conceived, and her vocals sound as crisp and clean through a vocoder as they do in the “analog” (acoustic) version. “Focus” is a masterfully produced track worthy of (and indicative of) the resources modern music production affords.
♫ LISTEN: “Focus”
32 • Barbra Streisand • Imagine / What a Wonderful World
Barbra’s new album, Walls, is exactly what you would expect from an album written and produced largely by the legend herself. The political… uh… undertones… are more than obvious and the orchestrations are shmaltzy beyond reason. Still, it’s Babs—she’s 76 and she can still belt, and that’s more than any of us can say. Her mashup of Lennon’s and Armstrongs timeless hits works remarkably well and is genuinely inspirational.
♫ LISTEN: “Imagine / What a Wonderful World”
31 • S. Carey • Hundred Acres
What can I say about S. Carey? His music is as genuine as it gets these days and is musically and lyrically balanced like a fine wine. Hundred Acres is a tribute and a prayer about the journey of life and getting older and wondering where we fit in the world. Every track asks a different question and offers the same hope for answers.
♫ LISTEN: “Hundred Acres”
30 • John Mayer • New Light
I don’t really know what John Mayer is doing with his career, but if the music video for “New Light” is any indication, neither does he. His singular release this year, nevertheless, is as good as JM gets and is primed for obsessive binge-listening.
♫ LISTEN: “New Light”
29 • Amy Grant • Say It With A Kiss
Who knew Amy Grant was still releasing new material? Actually, I knew. And I don’t care what y’all say, Amy’s still got it. Like so much 2018 music, “Say It With A Kiss” is about a genuine attempt at reconciliation in a world divided. It’s less a call to solve the world’s problems and more an acknowledgement of conflict and a dream for a world where difference can be embraced and accepted.
♫ LISTEN: “Say It With A Kiss”
28 • JONES • Worst Nightmare (Acoustic)
JONES is the first singer I’ve heard since 2016 who might be able to give Lianne La Havas a run for her money. Her discography is still in its extreme early stages, but if she keeps recording and growing as an artist, she’ll be unstoppable in no time.
♫ LISTEN: “Worst Nightmare”
27 • Roo Panes • Quiet Man
Roo Panes challenges notions of male power in a quiet, delicate album that seems to have no agenda and almost yields to the very world around it. This is music to listen to while you crochet, or wait for your tea to steep, or write a postcard wistfully in the morning light.
♫ LISTEN: “Sketches of Summer”
26 • Troye Sivan • Bloom
Yes, I know you all think this song is a metaphor for this or that or even that other thing (gross). I just think it’s a cool song and it has a nice bass drop in the chorus.
♫ LISTEN: “Bloom”
25 • The 1975 • A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
As an album, the latest from The 1975 can tend toward the overly-political, but then again what isn’t over-politicized these days? Even though the songs are full of hard-hitting questions, the tracks are couched in feel-good music that makes the difficult parts feel bearable at worst and even natural at best.
♫ LISTEN: “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”
24 • Emily King • Look At Me Now
The smokey torch-singer vocals of Emily King are paired with toy-piano playfulness and snarky lyrics. This post-breakup song has the defiant power of Queen with the easy-listening appeal of Pomplamoose.
♫ LISTEN: “Look At Me Now”
23 • The Carters • APESHIT
After Beyoncé’s defiant and demanding 2016 the last two years have been devoted to collaborations with Jay Z, proving that the grand reconciliation narrative in Lemonade was no lie. In “APESHIT” the duo flaunts their inconceivable wealth by renting the Louvre as a filming location. Also, Nicki better watch out, Bey has been taking rap lessons.
♫ LISTEN: “APESHIT”
22 • Miles Davis • Rubberband of Life (feat. Ledisi)
The elusive “lost” Miles Davis album finally surfaced in a proper remastered release this year, and boy is it groovetown. Take a moment to be transported back to 1985 the way we all want to remember it.
♫ LISTEN: “Rubberband of Life”
21 • Katrina Carson • Overdue
Katrina is taking none of your bullshit. This up-and-coming Detroit R&B boss is very done with your games, and her music is lit enough to prove it. In “Overdue” Katrina may be “over you” but this worm of a song is not leaving your ear anytime soon.
♫ LISTEN: “Overdue”
20 • Doja Cat • MOOO!
Doja Cat is not a cat, she’s a cow. Bitch.
P.S. watch the video
♫ LISTEN: “MOOO!”
19 • Lake Street Dive • Good Kisser
“Good Kisser” is a banger, plain and simple. The first time I heard it I screamed. It’s an anthem of empowerment about not getting slut-shamed and not blaming yourself for other people’s bad behavior.
♫ LISTEN: “Good Kisser”
18 • Christina and the Queens • 5 Dollars
Get ready to be transported to an exact recreation of 1982 with Christina and the Queens, the apex of retro. Remember how obsessed everyone was with money and gender and dancing? Oh right, that also perfectly describes 2018.
♫ LISTEN: “5 Dollars”
17 • Poppy • Time Is Up
Listen carefully. Humanity is irredeemable and our only hope is the inevitable development of artificial intelligence. Stay with me here. The sooner the human race goes extinct, the better. AI can do that for us. Poppy can do that for us.
♫ LISTEN: “Time Is Up”
16 • Kacey Musgraves • Slow Burn
Golden Hour is in like everyone’s list this year even though I totally was obsessed with it like the day it came out. Kacey strikes a balance between mainstream-appeal pop and country-inflected styles. “Slow Burn” feels sincere like an old-fashioned folk song, but also trendy and cool like an Instagram story.
♫ LISTEN: “Slow Burn”
15 • Miley Cyrus • Nothing Breaks Like a Heart
Unlike Kacey Musgraves, Miley’s return to country is unapologetic, some might even say shameless. In her 2018 form Miley sounds like the reincarnation of Dolly Parton, and damn she sounds good.
♫ LISTEN: “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”
14 • BØRNS • Blue Madonna
I couldn’t include Lana Del Rey in this list because she officially went off the deep end this year (she was on the cusp last year with “Love,” but with “Venice Bitch” she officially told the world that she has lost it). However, her cameo on BØRNS’s early 2018 release was a worthy one, and despite some manic moments, Blue Madonna is a trip worth the ride. In fact, BØRNS thought it was so good he just sang through the tracks in order for his tour setlist (weird flex, but okay).
♫ LISTEN: “God Save Our Young Blood”
13 • Aly & AJ • Good Love
The once-Disney darlings continue to solidify their comeback with more earworms this year. “Good Love” features delicious fat synth, echo-y drums, and a unique song form that saves the best bits for the end.
♫ LISTEN: “Good Love”
12 • Ariana Grande • thank u, next
Although “God is a Woman” is arguably the more “important” among Ariana’s releases this year, and her cover of Imogen Heap’s “Say Goodnight and Go” was truly delightful, “thank u, next” was the jam that ultimately stuck in our collective consciousness. Despite being ripe for parody and shallow memeification, the single uses the breakup song format as a vehicle for a refreshingly empowering narrative about learning to love yourself and resisting the “the one” teleology.
♫ LISTEN: “thank u, next”
11 • Jamie Drake • Everything’s Fine
I didn’t know about Jamie Drake until the last week of this year but her music is instant love. The harmonic relationships and orchestrations in the music are masterful and the lyrics are deft poetry. “Everything’s Fine” is a breakup song, but it also sums up the acute denialism of 2018—we really want everything to be okay even though we know it isn’t. Like so many others this year, Jamie knows there aren’t always answers and accepting that fact is the hardest, and maybe the most important thing: “I suppose we’ll never know the purpose of / all the moments that we spend on human love.”
♫ LISTEN: “Everything’s Fine”
10 • Jean-Michael Blais • outsiders
This darling (post)minimalist of Montreal creates the perfect rainy day soundtracks. In outsiders, J-M invokes his almost namesake, graffiti artist and mystic luminary Jean-Michel Basquiat with a haunting voice recording in the prelude. Blais (like Basquiat) is a kind of musical graffiti artist who records in his apartment and challenges the mainstream with rare sentimentality.
♫ LISTEN: “outsiders”
9 • Vulfpeck • Darwin Derby
Ever chirpy, silly, and smooth, Vulfpeck delivers the ultimate in new funk again this year with a song that makes evolutionary biology into the house party that it really is. I never really wondered why whales have feet (they really do, btw! Also jk I’ve watched all the youtube videos about marine vestigiality) and the answer, of course, is delicious, groovy natural selection. Everybody’s groovin’
♫ LISTEN: “Darwin Derby”
8 • Janelle Monáe • Make Me Feel
In a career that always seems to be leading to a bigger, grander coming of age, one wonders when Janelle Monáe will ever be fully formed. It’s hard to say if she, like Poppy, is turning into a computer, or if she’s about to emerge as something even more carnal and animal than a human being. Dirty Computer seems to suggest both possibilities, and “Make Me Feel” musically expresses the cyborg dichotomy with biological sounds like tongue clicks that exist within a digital dance matrix.
♫ LISTEN: “Make Me Feel”
7 • Molly Burch • First Flower
Molly Burch is a fusion of the breezy nihilistic outrage of Father John Misty and the heartrending sincerity of Sufjan Stevens. She is simultaneously impossibly lovable and radically way too cool for you to even think about having a crush on. First Flower is a love note scented with rose petals that, when opened, contains a drawing of a big middle finger.
♫ LISTEN: “To the Boys”
6 • Wafia • I’m Good
In keeping with the theme of banger breakup songs this 2018, Wafia delivers a crazy danceable track with a seriously seductive bassline. “I’m Good” has a look that will have you sending double texts for days but an attitude that leaves you on read for the rest of your life.
♫ LISTEN: “I’m Good”
5 • Sleepy Tom (feat. Sophia Black) • Move
After 2017 I was seriously worried that Sophia Black had jumped the shark. Her really really weird Instagram stories and downright bad singles had me questioning my commitment to her status as pop sibyl. But then came “fire” earlier this year, and finally a collab with Sleepy Tom that seriously slaps.
♫ LISTEN: “Move”
4 • Lipstick Gypsy • Overnight
I know I’m saying that like every track in this list is “groovetown” but this one is *actually* groovetown. If you can listen to “Overnight” without gyrating your hips then we can’t be friends.
♫ LISTEN: “Overnight”
3 • Whethen (feat. Oh Wonder) • Superlove
Earworm of earworms (I know I said “earworm” like fifty times in this listicle I’ll delete my account later), this one will be stuck in your head for days. Quirky, witty, and original, “Superlove” is as artless as it is poised. The hook seems so obvious it’s remarkable that no one has done it before. This is one for your Tinder anthem or whatever, since that’s apparently a thing now.
♫ LISTEN: “Superlove”
2 • Natalie Prass • The Future and the Past
What to say about Natalie Prass? She was my #1 artist in 2015 and I’ve eagerly awaited her follow up album for what seems like an eternity. The story goes that she had a whole album ready to go in late 2016 but the shock of the presidential election sent her into an existential frenzy and ultimately scrapped and completely re-wrote all the music. While the story sounds apocraphal at best, the quality of The Future and the Past supports the claim. Rife with political metaphor, hopefulness, solidarity, plus some really palpable fun, this release is all the things I loved about Natalie in 2015, but, like somehow updated to version 2.0.
♫ LISTEN: “Short Court Style”
1 • Bill Wurtz
Bill Wurtz has told us the history of Japan, the history of the entire world, I guess, confirmed that we’re all still a piece of garbage, and given us way, way too many turkeys. While he didn’t really “release” anything that can be described as a “single” or “EP” or “album” in 2018 (and likely never will), his online activity this year was exploding with what can only be described as premium content. Many of his YouTube fans seem to think his tracks contain hidden messages and are leading up to some grand narrative reveal. I’m not sure where it’s all going (if anywhere), but it’s most definitely revolutionary, and it’s also very good music. My personal favorite of the year, “Mount St. Helens is About to Blow Up,” is 💯 about the coming economic class revolution, while other tracks like “Slow Down” and “La de Da de Da de Da de Day Oh” are less obvious, but still worth listening to repeatedly and obsessively.
♫ LISTEN: “Mount St. Helens is About to Blow Up”
BONUS • Red Bird Hollow with Aaron and Bryce Dessner • Hardest Time
This very special final track from the very wholesome collaboration of Bon Iver and The National, PEOPLE, is summertime-campfire-stargazing-thank-you-for-being-my-friend-let’s-go-on-a-roadtrip-nothing-matters-except-this-moment-and-I-love-you-all music. It’s carefree but serious, and moreso is a summation of the frustrating peace that came with 2018 nihilism. “Everyone is dyin’ anyway,” but “you’ll beat this thing, you can be old and grey.” In many ways 2018 was really the “hardest time” but it was also a time of solace, acceptance, and coming together, because—really—the hardest time “is when we’re apart.”
♫ LISTEN: “Hardest Time”