Before, during or after looking at my lists, check out What’s Good In 2018 for about a day’s worth of songs I liked this year.
This is probably the consensus best album of the year, and I’m guessing that’s because it lives in an area where things are mostly good or great, but there’s still an unescapable feeling of longing. Kacey is, after all, a millennial. Golden Hour is a mostly upbeat record about love, loneliness, and getting older, full of earworm melodies and gorgeous arrangements that make the whole thing feel like a 45-minute daydream. It’s engaging, endearing, and exactly the sort of thing everyone could use a little more of these days.
I probably listened to LION more than any other this year. Punchline has always been a little different from the standard pop-punk band, and this album finds them continuing to explore new sounds in a way that’s natural and refreshing. There’s so much life in these songs, from the present-focused “Friend From The Future” to the assurance of “Darkest Dark” to the encouraging new New Year’s anthem “It’s A New Year (Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself).” Trust me, you’ll have a good time listening to this record.
Voicenotes has the tightest pop songwriting of any album I heard in 2018. More than half of the record could be singles. While the title indicates that this album is driven by its vocals (it is), if I could only keep one part of any song from 2018, I’d have a hard time not taking the bass line in “Attention.” I want it to be my ringtone. I want it to play whenever I walk into a room or out on the street. It’s the best part of an album made up of best parts. It’s *chef’s kiss.*
A big chunk of this record sounds a little like John Mellencamp trying a little harder for pop chart success, and I love it. “American Nights” is an instant classic, and songs like “Bad Girls Don’t Cry” and “Do You Think About Us” are undeniably fun. Because I spent so much of my teenage years listening to the first Boys Like Girls record, I feel Martin Johnson’s reflection and nostalgia a little more than if I came to The Night Game without that history. “Coffee And Cigarettes” is a great song either way, but the context really makes it hit. I only wish this had come out in time for more summer night listening.
If you focus on any one element of this record, you can convince yourself it’s the best part. The varied guitar tones and textures fit into a cohesive palate, and the drum parts tie everything together with driving toms and interesting patterns. Stay Inside would be well worth your time if it were an instrumental album, but it also has some incredible vocals. Dan Rose masterfully pushes his voice and lets it fall back into vulnerability, painting a full range of emotion to match his lyrics. Don’t overlook this one.
6. Fall Out Boy – Mania
7. Camila Cabello – Camila
8. Speak Low If You Speak Love – Nearsighted
9. McCafferty – Yarn
10. Janelle Monaé – Dirty Computer
11. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
12. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
13. Household – Everything A River Should Be
14. All Get Out – No Boquet
15. Pianos Become The Teeth – Wait For Love
16. CHVRCHES – Love Is Dead
17. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
18. Mat Kearney – CRAZYTALK
19. Underoath – Erase Me
20. Death Cab For Cutie – Thank You For Today
Top 5 EPs:
1. boygenius – boygenius
2. No Rome – RIP Indo Hisashi
3. Shortly – Richmond
4. Dead American – The Shape Of Punk Is Dumb
5. Smallpools – So Social
Top 10 Songs:
1. “Me & My Dog” – boygenius, from boygenius
2. “Attention” – Charlie Puth, from Voicenotes
3. “Darkest Dark” – Punchline, from LION
4. “60 & Punk” – Death Cab For Cutie, from Thank You For Today
5. “Space Cowboy” – Kacey Musgraves, from Golden Hour
6. “Night Shift” – Lucy Dacus, from Historian
7. “Party For One” – Carly Rae Jepsen
8. “Graffiti” – CHVRCHES, from Love Is Dead
9. “Be My Mistake” – The 1975, from A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
10. “Coffee And Cigarettes” – The Night Game, from The Night Game
I listened to something like 3,000 new songs this year. Here are my top 25 in a convenient Spotify playlist:
Best Album Art: The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
I love the layered aesthetic, and this just nails the feel of the album.
Favorite Live Show: boygenius (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA, 11/9/18
I almost didn’t go to this show because it was almost four hours away on a Thursday night, but I’m glad I changed my mind in time to get a seat up in the side balcony. Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus have such different energies and performance styles, but they meshed so perfectly when they came together at the end of the night. As much as I need to hear more solo records from these artists, it’d be a shame if the short run this fall was the last time boygenius performed as a group.
Biggest Surprise: Camila Cabello – Camila
At first, I passed on listening to this record because I was dumb and fully prepared to write it off as just another mainstream pop album, likely to have a solid single or two and a bunch of filler. When I gave it a shot, I quickly found out that there wasn’t any filler at all. I was hooked by the second listen, and I’ve listened to it a ton all year. The production is so good, and each track is a different take on what a perfect pop song can be. Camila’s voice works as well on “Havana” and “Into It” as it does on “Consequences” and “Real Friends,” and that range suggests she’s going to be making great records for a long time. I’m not going to be surprised again.
Biggest Disappointment: Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness – Upside Down Flowers
I don’t outright dislike this record, but I was hoping for a little more out of it. I think that taking a little more time would’ve let more of these songs be as good as “Ohio,” but some of them feel like the first draft of an idea, without the sort of revision that unlocks the enduring and universal qualities of a lot of McMahon’s previous work. He put on a great live show when I saw him in October (and he played a few songs from the record), so I’m hoping that these songs translate better in person and adapt to the stage.
Best New Discoveries:
2. The Aces
3. The Academic
4. Barely Civil
5. With Confidence
There wasn’t a natural place to put them into lists, but Bayside, The Maine, and St. Vincent all put out acoustic/reimagined versions of older material, and City And Colour released an album of live performances from his 2017 tour of Canada. These are all very nice and worth your time.
1. Carly Rae Jepsen
2. La Dispute
4. The Maine
5. Bad Suns
6. The 1975
7. From Indian Lakes
8. Every Time I Die
10. The American Scene
Oh, and if you’ve ever got a full day to kill, here’s almost everything I liked this year, all in one handy playlist:
Want to see what the rest of the staff liked this year?
Check out The Top Albums Of 2018!