Top Eleven Songs of 2018:
Listen to Best of 2018 on Spotify
The Beths - Future Me Hates Me
"I have been a mess of late / And you wouldn't be impressed / But I've got something on my chest."
Half-way through 2018, I honestly had no idea what album would take the top spot on my list. I held out hope for Vampire Weekend or Chance the Rapper to release their long-awaited albums, assuming that anything they did would likely take the cake. But with their work pushed until 2019, it became up-for-grabs. Then I started listening to this New Zealand-based group and really liked them. Smart lyrics over well-crafted melodies with a nice guitar crunch, they play as well as they write. Before long, I found myself which of three songs would make the best of playlist, a clear indicator to me how much I enjoyed listening to this album above the rest. A great, great album.
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel
"Friends treat you like a stranger and / Strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well."
The Australian-born singer-songwriter has been busy since her debut topped the 2016 list: collaborations with Kurt Vile and others, expanding acts to her label, Milk! Records. Her sophomore effort carries a slower, more casual feel than her incendiary debut, but that's the sign of a great songwriter: it doesn't take a fierce beat to capture the listener's ear, to have them hang on every lyric. She is as genuine and authentic of a musician as you can find.
Ty Segall - Freedom's Goblin
"Everyone's a winner, baby, that's no lie / You'll never fail to satisfy."
Last year, I joked that Segall is the only artist who can make Ryan Adams' output look sparse, and that his next album would drop a week later. But Freedom's Goblin doesn't sacrifice quality for quantity, nor does it establish boundaries for genre or style. Whether it's the covering Hot Chocolate's "Every 1's a Winner" at a break-neck pace, or brass accompaniment, Segall has taken his work to new heights.
boygenius - boygenius
"Here's the best part distilled for you."
The trio of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers entered Sound City Studios last year with three songs each. Four days later, they left with a remarkable product: a six-track EP, alternating lead vocals with stunning harmonies.
The Decemberists - I'll Be Your Girl
"I alight like a whisper / I alight with the lights out."
Written leading up to and in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election, it's no surprise that frontman Colin Meloy turned his pen in the direction of the President. While it's not nearly as overt as some of the other artists on this year's list, he pulls no punches against his mark.
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!
"Mind so woke 'cause my brain is as sharp as a blade."
The title is likely a play on words for being "woke," which everyone seems to claim these days. But Andrew Savage and company demonstrate a broader, more mature view of the world on this album. Whether its paying homage to the likes of Emmett Till, or confronting racial biases, climate change, and gun violence, Parquet Courts has become the most politically conscious punk band since The Clash. Not to mention, hiring the legendary Danger Mouse to produce resulted in a dance-punk, upbeat feel.
CHVRCHES - Love Is Dead
"We wrote our names along the bathroom walls / Graffitiing our hearts across the stalls."
Since appearing on the 2013 list, this Glasgow-based trio released a third album in 2018, still a heavy synth-pop feel. Just as good, if not better, than their first.
Caroline Rose - LONER
"Floating around in a vacuum of space / Everything here it all looks the same / Like aisles and aisles of boxes and cans / Everything is just more of the same thing."
After boot-strapping her 2012 debut and following it up in 2014 with another folk/country album, Rose branched out into pop and alt rock genres. Lots of catchy synthesizer on this album.
Superchunk - What a Time to be Alive
"To see the rot in no disguise / Oh what a time to be alive / The scum, the shame, the fucking lies / Oh what a time to be alive."
Okay, so they're from Chapel Hill. After listening to this album, I no longer hold it against them. Like many of the other artists on this year's list, songwriting occurred during the 2016 Presidential Election. This album is the most overt criticism towards the President, matching well with the musical feel.
Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
"Black girl magic, y'all can't stand it."
It took a Price-influenced "Make Me Feel" for me to truly appreciate Monae's talent. I really missed the boat on 2013's The Electric Lady, but thankfully she delivered another album that's just as great
Tierra Whack - Whack World
"He likes my diamonds and my pearls / I said, thank you I designed it / Not your average girl / He needed swag and I provided."
Hands-down, the most creative debut of any musician this decade. An album of 15 tracks, each exactly 60 seconds long. That may seem odd at first notice, and perhaps that's the point. But after viewing her short film, it's clear that this is much more than a publicity stunt.
Lucy Dacus - Historian
"In five years I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers."
One of three members of boygenius (see #4, above), Dacus delivers an album that doesn't leave you hoping for more (even if it doesn't have the harmonies from Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker).
Superorganism - Superorganism
"Feeling like a boss, and / Staring at the stars, it / Doesn't matter the cost, cause / Everybody wants to be famous."
London-based art-pop band, with members originally from England, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. All but one live together. Between that and their production process, they kind of make Animal Collective look like a mainstream band run by suits.
Florence + The Machine - High as Hope
"How deeply are you sleeping or are you still awake? / A good friend told me you've been staying out so late / Be careful, oh, my darling, oh, be careful what it takes / From what I've seen so far, the good ones always seem to break."
Returning to the list for the first time since 2011, this self-produced album isn't as rousing as its predecessors yet still commands attention with strong vocals.
Foxing - Nearer My God
"At hallowed ground, holding hands / Ashing cigarettes on gravestones / Pin photographs on cork boards / Unfollowing my dead friends."
St. Louis based band that blends emo and shoegaze for an ethereal sound.
Guilty Pleasure of the Year
Weezer - Africa
"I stopped an old man along the way / Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies / He turned to me as if to say / 'Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you'."
We've all born witness to the cesspool that Twitter can be. It misinforms. It divides. It produces keyboard warriors who drag people unmercifully through sludge. But sometimes ... sometimes it's really great, and in the simplest of ways. Honestly, I could've never again heard the original version and it wouldn't have bothered me. But what began as a friendly troll and good laugh turned into something much more. Not only did it lead to Weezer releasing a single and accompanying video, we now have The Teal Album of covers. And we also have THIS. So, a firm handshake to Mary, the 14 year-old who kicked off this crazy idea, and to Rivers and company for taking it the rest of the way.