Ep. 80: Favorite Music of 2018 – Top Ten Albums

As this year wraps up, I’m sharing my favorite albums from 2018. There was a lot of great records that came out and I honestly had a hard time narrowing it down to just ten but I did, and here they are.

10. Pinegrove – Skylight

This is the third album from this New Jersey indie rock band. To me, they sound something like a cross between early Death Cab For Cutie and Band of Horses, which is to say it’s a sound that was popular a decade ago but you don’t hear as much now. At the same time, I really miss this style so it’s nice to hear someone keeping it alive and new. The whole album has a pretty cohesive sound; plenty of reverb and a little bit twangy (but not quite full on country) and some clean, chimey sounding electric guitars. The songs are generally pretty short, usually around the 2 minute mark, which I think helps keep the pace moving on so you don’t have a chance to get board.  Essential Songs: Darkness, Rings

Stream: Spotify

9. Lucy Dacus – Historian

This one is a recent discovery for me. She’s a 23 year-old singer/songwriter from Virginia and this is her second album. She has a beautiful voice that reminds me a bit of St. Vincent or PJ Harvey. For me what really carries this album is the songwriting. She writes really interesting, catchy melodies and her lyrics are really original and raw. The songs are also arranged and recorded really well. It’s mostly guitar based and she definitely rocks it out at moments, which you don’t hear as much now, but there is also some strings and horns at times. It’s almost a throwback to 90s grunge rock but with a fresh spin. But she sounds mature beyond her years. Essential Songs: The Shell, Night Shift, Body to Flame

Stream: Spotify

8. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!

This garage rock band hails from New York City and this is their 6th album. This time, they enlisted the production help of Danger Mouse, who is famous for his work with Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys, Gorillaz, and Portugal. The Man, among others. Right from the bat, you can tell a big difference. Their sound channels late-70s/early-80s  punk and new wave in a really fun and new way. They take some of the weirdness, attitude and the angular guitar styles of CBGB’s bands like Talking Heads and Television or even The Clash and throw in some 60s psychedelic flourishes typical of Danger Mouse’s production style. But it’s all so punchy and catchy. It’s a great listen. Essential Song: Wide Awake, Total Football, Back to Earth

Stream: Spotify

7. Emily Brown – Bee Eater

Emily is a singer/songwriter I know from the Utah music scene, who has since moved to Oakland, California. She used to play piano in a group called “Book On Tape Worm” but now does her own thing. She has a very pretty, high voice along the lines of Joni Mitchell and sings these beautiful melodies that tend to drift and just sort of float along. Many of the songs have lush string arrangements and other little touches that give it a really distinct sound. She writes really deep and poetic lyrics. It’s a very ambitious album that can, at times, be both dense and sparse, or grand but also very personal. It’s a very moving listen. Essential Songs: Who Can Say, Giving Up, Unseen Girl

Stream: Spotify

6. Gorillaz – The Now Now

This is the sixth album of Damon Albarn’s hip hop/electronica project. Last year’s record, Humanz was over an hour long and featured collaborators on almost all 26 tracks, which I felt like was a bit of chore to listen to. This year’s album is relatively more scaled back with the number of collaborators and only 11 songs, clocking in at 40 minutes. To me, it feels like a much more focused and fun album. It reminds me of the sound of their third album, Plastic Beach, which I really liked. The production is really spacey and kind of psychedelic but also borrows from some 80s funk. But the songwriting is stronger this go around so it makes for much more solid record. Essential Songs: Kansas, Humility, Magic City

Stream: Spotify

5. Leon Bridges – Good Thing

This is the second album from this Texas-based soul singer. His debut was a throwback to early 60s soul and R&B, with that same type of vintage sound. This time, his influences are incorporated with more modern sounds. The percussion is much punchier, more along the lines of hip-hop. There’s also some jazz soloing, strings and even funk. It’s a bit closer to something Pharrell Williams might do. To be honest, I didn’t like it as first because I missed the vintage sound of his debut. But the more I listened, I grew to appreciate the songwriting. His melodies are really solid and his lyrics are clever and well thought-out. Plus his voice is very soulful and he’s able to still have a good amount of variety in this sound he’s carved out. Essential Songs: You Don’t Know, Shy, Forgive You

Stream: Spotify

4. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

This is the third studio album from this Texas-born country singer. She has a beautiful, crystal clear voice that fits these songs perfectly. It’s fairly mainstream country music but she downplays the honky-tonk, twangy side and instead it sounds a bit more breezy or even spacey, like occasionally they use this really funky vocal harmonizer. There’s also even a disco song. There’s still a bit of pedal steel and banjo but it’s much more subtle than most country music. The songwriting is really strong and avoids a lot of the typical lyrical cliches you hear in country music, like talking about whiskey and pick up trucks and instead gets real personal about relationships. It almost sound like a polished up Sufjan Stevens at times or even Fleetwood Mac. So basically, it’s country music for people who don’t like country music. Essential Songs: Slow Burn, Butterflies, Space Cowboy

Stream: Spotify

3. Matt Weidauer – Matt Weidauer

This is actually a good friend of mine, so I’m a little bit biased but I think it’s an amazing album. We’ve played music together for years with Adding Machines and The Fab Folk so if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you’ve heard some of his playing on past episodes. He put out an album called “Birds” that I mixed back in 2009 and also an album of George Harrison covers but this is his first album of original material in 9 years, which he wrote and recorded in his home studio. There’s lots of things I like about this record. I love his voice and I think his songwriting is really fresh and original. He writes songs about Elvis faking his own death or from the perspective of characters on the TV show LOST but it all sounds so natural and effortless. He’s a really good guitar player. He comes up with these interesting picking parts that I think sound amazing. He sort of reminds me of M. Ward or Lord Huron. He also has a nice variety of sounds with the production, which give the whole record a good flow. Essential Songs: Disgraceland, Wounded Man, Set Me On Fire

Stream: Spotify

2. First Aid Kit – Ruins

This artist is a pair of sisters from Sweden. It’s their fourth album and it’s filled with heart-felt folk rock tunes with tight vocal harmonies. The songwriting is absolutely top-notch, particularly their melodies. The melodies are original but sound so effortless with the way they rise and fall. They wear their passion on their sleeves. The production is fairly straightforward but with occasional string flourishes and pedal steel. It’s great sound that fits them well. This album is very relaxing listen start to finish and one of my favorites this year. Essential Songs: Shame, Fireworks, Rebel Heart

Stream: Spotify

1. Glen Hansard – Between Two Shores

Glen is an Irish song/songwriter probably most famous for starring and writing the music for the 2007 indie film, Once, which featured his song, “Falling Slowly.” This led to his collaboration with Czech singer and pianist, Mark√©ta Irglov√°, which became known as The Swell Season. They put out a few albums together before Glen went solo but he’s also been creating music with another band called The Frames since 1991, so he’s been around a long time. For this album, Glen expanded his indie folk rock sound to include more of a soul/R&B influence. Many of the songs have horns and retro organ sounds and strings, which I love. I think the adjustment suites him well, as he’s also been a very passionate, soulful singer. Some of the songs remind of Wilco’s early sound like on the album Being There. The songwriting is also really solid this time. It’s nice to hear one of my favorite artists continuing to hone in his craft while also trying new things. Essential Songs: Roll On Slow, Wheels on Fire, Setting Forth

Stream: Spotify

Favorite Albums of 2018 – Spotify Playlist


Favorite Songs of 2018

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