My Favorite Music of 2018

I don't know when I started writing these lists, and honestly, I'm not sure if they serve any purpose beyond my own deep-seated penchant for taking items and organizing them. (Ask me about Tetris sometime.)

I guess it's also kind of fun to pretend something as subjective as taste can be definitively sorted. Maybe that's just a me thing?

Either way, it's nice to take stock of the year through the lens of creativity, and hey, maybe I can recommend some good music you'd never considered before.

2018 was a great year for music. I mean, every year's a great year for music; you've just gotta keep searching until you find something you like. But what I actually mean is that some of my favorite music I've ever heard was released over the past 12 months, and that's pretty cool.

Here are some of my favorites.

Best Albums

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10. Lena Raine – Celeste Original Soundtrack

(Spotify)

If we're talking purely in terms of time spent listening to an album, the Celeste Original soundtrack is my top album of 2018. It's a little tricky placing a soundtrack on a list of original albums, though; I can't really separate the music itself from its crucial role in making that game as impactful as it is.

But on its own merits, Lena Raine's soundtrack is extremely good and extremely listenable music. The range of styles and moods is broad, but it's all tied together through strong, consistent instrumentation and some really wonderfully understated arrangement.

I'll probably revisit Celeste every now and then, but I know the soundtrack will stay in my rotation for years to come.

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9. Soccer Mommy – Clean

(Spotify)

If you like sweet sadness, relatable raw lyrics, and warm guitar, well, here's the album for you. In a year with some remarkable debut albums, this is one of the best.

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8. boygenius – boygenius EP

(Spotify)

It's a super group composed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus — three of the best new singer-songwriters I've heard in recent years. Together, they created a rich, textured, confident and far too brief EP. If they ever go on tour together, I'm buying tickets immediately.

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7. Neko Case – Hell-On

(Spotify)

Neko Case is a living legend, and on Hell-On, she's at the pinnacle of her singing and songwriting powers. I think of this album as a paean to the exploited, whether it's nature, teenage naivete, or the colonized. Case's voice is peerless, as ever, and the production on this album is superb.

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6. Lucy Dacus – Historian

(Spotify)

Lucy Dacus is 23 years old, and she's already written the sort of complex, genuine, timeless songs that people spend their entire lives trying to pen. On Historian, her poetry shines across a range of sounds and moods. But it's the nearly seven-minute-long opener, "Night Shift," that establishes her right out the gate as a truly gifted songwriter. I have no idea how she had time to release and support Historian while also contributing to the boygenius EP in the same year. Absolutely wild.

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5. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog

(Spotify)

I love this album fiercely, start to finish. "Prior Things" was the motivation I needed to make it through the harder parts of this year.

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4. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

(Spotify)

Dirty Computer is a lot of things to a lot of people. It's the rebirth of Monáe after retiring her ArchAndroid persona; it's an "emotion picture"; it's a tribute to her mentor, Prince.

For me, this is as quintessentially 2018 an album as anything I've heard. It also happens to be an absolutely killer set of epoch-spanning songs with an urgency and relevance that few albums convey. And it's a testament to Monáe's unbelievable artistic ability. Who else could bring Brian Wilson, Grimes, and Tessa Thompson into the same project and make it all fit like clockwork?

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3. Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs

(Spotify)

It's kinda silly to talk about having a "favorite band", right? Who does that?

Anyway, Wye Oak is my favorite band, and this is their best album to date.

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2. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me

(Spotify)

God, The Beths rule. Future Me Hates Me rules. Everything about this whole situation rules. Poppy, hook-laden, richly layered and expertly arranged, this album is infectiously fun and tinged with just the right amount of self-deprecating vibes. This was absolutely the biggest surprise of 2018 for me. I think it's essential; give it a listen.

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1. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

(Spotify)

I've always seen Mitski as a brilliant and versatile musician, but on Be the Cowboy, she proves she's a singular artist. This is as close to a perfect album as any I've heard. Without exception, every song on this album is one of the best songs I've heard this year. And they're all so distinct from each other!

At 32 minutes across 14 songs, Be the Cowboy is tightly edited. Every song lasts just long enough to ensure you'll miss it after it's over.

Be the Cowboy is one of the best albums I've ever heard, and it's easily my favorite album of 2018.

Other Albums I Liked

Robyn – Honey
Screaming Females – All at Once
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
Snail Mail – Lush
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Beach House – 7
Tierra Whack – Whack World
Low – Double Negative
The Decemberists – I'll Be Your Girl

Best Songs

#10. "Honey" – Robyn

#9. "Your Dog" – Soccer Mommy

#8. "Screwed" – Janelle Monáe

#7. "Grow Into a Ghost" – Swearin'

#6. "Future Me Hates Me" – The Beths

#5. "Lifer" – Wye Oak

#4. "Last Lion of Albion" – Neko Case

#3. "Nobody" – Mitski

#2. "Prior Things" – Hop Along

#1. "Night Shift" – Lucy Dacus

Some Other Good Songs

"Black Moon" – Screaming Females
"Curse of the I-5 Corridor" – Neko Case
"Geyser" – Mitski
"Gold Rush" – Death Cab for Cutie
"Hell-On" – Neko Case
"High Horse" – Kacey Musgraves
"Let's Find an Out" – Snail Mail
"Lonesome Love" – Mitski
"Pink in the Night" – Mitski
"Pristine" – Snail Mail
"Stay Down" – boygenius
"The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs" – Wye Oak
"Two Slow Dancers" – Mitski
"We Appreciate Power" – Grimes

Here's all this stuff in a handy playlist:

Nick Cummingsmusic