I released my 2017 version of this list on Dec. 15 last year. In early January, Friend That I Met Online John Cullen released his own list. At No. 1 on his list was Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps, a transcendently smart, painfully sad album that, were I to rewrite my own 2017 list now, would be the unquestioned No. 1. Except that I hadn’t heard about it until John’s list.
This changed the way I approached things a little bit for 2018. I understand that year-end lists are arbitrary cut-offs, that the calendar is only something we perceive, and that Boston Celtics’ prospect Robert Williams would laugh at us for even considering “years.” Music does not belong to the year it was released in. Not finding Bridgers’ 2017 album until 2018 did not make me enjoy it any less. All it meant was that it wasn’t on my list, which was a snapshot of my feelings on 2017 music at that point in time. It’s no different than looking at my 2015 list and realizing how much I’d re-shuffle it now.
Still, I wanted to make a concerted effort to cast a wider net this year. Last year, I occasionally asked people on Twitter what their favorite albums of the last while were. This year, I made that a quarterly exercise, and the responses were voluminous. The result was that I wound up checking out way too many albums this year. Which is cool, but I think I’ll scale back moving forward. The exercise is still a lot of fun. At the same time, such a broad approach necessitated spending a little less time with the albums I really loved this year. There’s a trade-off between searching for anything you might like and really immersing in the things you know you love. There’s no right answer, obviously, but 2019 will probably see me hold back less when it comes to, say, listening to CHVRCHES front-to-back on every run for weeks at a time even though Pusha T, A$AP Rocky, Retirement Party, and Hoobastank all dropped that same week.
What follows are the albums I enjoyed most in 2018.
Honorable Mention (75-50, in alphabetical order)
Against the Current, Anderson .Paak, awakebutstillinbed, Cardi B, Drake, Ella Mai, Fucked Up, Graduating Life, Hayley Kiyoko, Mac Miller, Metric, Natalie Prass, Neko Case, Odd Robot, Pianos Become the Teeth, Poppy, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Superchunk, The Carters, The Dirty Nil, The Sidekicks, Travis Scott, YG, Young Thug
Other Honorable Mention
Stella Donnelly (Thrush Metal, 2017), The Front Bottoms (Ann, only one new track), and Car Seat Headrest (Twin Fantasy, 2011) all had EPs/albums out that were great but were re-releases of earlier work and were excluded as such. I also didn’t know how to properly rank Black Panther: The Album, so I didn’t, but it was awesome.
50. Tiny Moving Parts – Swell
Your favourite band’s favourite opener is inexplicably the group I’ve seen play live the most since moving back to Toronto in 2013. They’re just always playing. And they have an unbelievable energy live, especially with Swell having a noticeably more optimistic outlook than most of their peers in the genre. If the lead singer didn’t look exactly like Sean Woodley, they’d be 10 spots higher.
49. Meek Mill – Championships
I’m glad the beef with Drake is over so we can finally admit that Meek is Actually Good.
48. Forth Wanderers – Forth Wanderers
One of the cutest origin stories ever has led to a genuinely excellent band and a really strong self-titled album here. Ava Trilling is a star, and I sincerely hope the mental health issues that forced a tour cancellation this summer are getting better.
47. Pusha T – DAYTONA
Can’t imagine you need me to sell you on 21 minutes of unadulterated heat.
46. Jorja Smith – Lost & Found
There is a lot of compassion displayed as Smith searches for answers on Lost & Found, and her ultimate conclusions – namely, that she needs to know herself better before some of these answers become clear – is an important takeaway. I’m not sure I like many of the comparisons Smith got out of the gate (player comps are bad), as she’s quickly establishing herself as an original.
45. Kali Uchis – Isolation
Is it ironic that Jorja Smith’s feature on Kali Uchis’ album pushes Uchis’ album one spot higher on the list? Probably not. Isolation goes all over the map stylistically, making for a very interesting and highly entertaining front-to-back listen.
44. Petal – Magic Gone
The clarity of Kiley Lotz’ voice – always reaching higher in choruses – the straight-forward nature of her lyrics – a lot of internal conflict but never conceding to bitterness – and sharp hooks whether the track sounds part country or part pop-punk make Magic Gone one of the easiest albums to dive into on this list. Like anything, it won’t be for everyone, but it’s hard to imagine anyone outright disliking it. It’s too sweet and she’s too charming.
43. Amine – ONEPOINTFIVE
The follow-up to 2017’s breakout Good For You isn’t quite as bright and loud but Amine is coming to his own as a lyricist and establishing an identifiable sound that I really enjoy. Plus, any friend of OG Anunoby is a friend of ours.
42. Nicole Dollanganger – Heart Shaped Bed
Small-town Ontario’s Queen of Creepy gives us another eerie, haunting album that fits right alongside 2015’s Natural Born Losers. I’m not sure this is quite as good as the last – it reaches no peak as high as Poacher’s Pride – but it evokes the same goth-folk spirit with all of the trademark subject complexity.
41. Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap
The features alone make this one worthwhile, and still Nipsey Hussle owns each track.
40. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Underneath how meaningful and prescient the themes are here, Dirty Computer is also just a tremendous pop record. Monae is gifted, ambitious, and unapologetic, and nearly everything, down to the accompanying visuals, is pitch perfect. (An aside: Are we still allowed to like Grimes after all this weird Elon Musk stuff?)
39. Chelsea Cutler – Sleeping With Roses
Remember that time you accidentally liked a Chainsmokers song and felt bad about playing it on repeat when nobody was around? I offer you only the good parts of said song, with none of the embarrassment.
38. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
Honestly, I’m just happy it wasn’t a disaster after the number of starts and stops and false alarms the last few years. There are some pretty bad tracks on here, but Wayne at his best is still fine form, toying with the standard conventions of language and seemingly testing his own abilities as a rapper and writer with each passing verse. That he lined up some great features to help carry the load was smart. It’s nice that the slump – Da Drought, if you prefer – appears to be over, at least through the lens of how we’ll evaluate the King of 2008 from here.
37. Ariana Grande – Sweetener
This was one of my favorite pieces of music writing this year, so I’ll let it do the work.
36. Florence + The Machine – High as Hope
The most powerful voice in the business continues a lengthy streak of exactly zero misses. Between this, her poetry/lyrics book, and the amount I laughed to myself at Big God as a potential meme like Big Mood because my brain is broken, Florence Welch gave me plenty this year.
35. no thank you – All It Takes to Ruin It All
no thank you last left us with the line “I’m twenty-something, I’m doing just fine.” The follow-up leaves a little more doubt as to that statement. The melodies throughout serve to soften the tone of the album, which lays Kaytee Della-Monica’s uncertainties bare. She wrote the album after her father’s passing, and it often sounds like she’s journaling in front of us.
34. Snail Mail – Lush
Lindsey Jordan just oozes genuineness, and it’s incredible that she’s this polished a songwriter at just 19. There’s a careful balance between the defeatism in the lyrics and songs that make it seem like those defeats are no big deal and Jordan will be just fine. This is the type of debut full-length that would have Jay Bilas crying “ridiculous upside” if he listened to anything other than Jeezy.
33. Slothrust- The Pact
I first came across Slothrust on the T.V. show You’re the Worst, as they’re responsible for the incredibly well-fitting “I’m gonna leave you anyway” intro. That show has stumbled a little bit as it works its way to its upcoming final season, but it’s still a strong recommend. I can’t think of another show that handles the specifics and difficulties of the intersection of mental health and relationships nearly as well, save for maybe Bojack Horseman. It’s depiction of depression and how it changes romantic love, for the depressed and for a partner, is so incredibly poignant throughout the show’s primary story. Anyway, Slothrust are cool and good.
32. Vince Staples – FM!
Last year in this space, I called Staples my favorite rapper outside of Earl and Kendrick and pointed out his relentless work ethic with how much music he puts out. Well, here he is with yet another. This isn’t quite at the level of Summertime ’06 or Big Fish Theory and drops off a bit in the back half, but for the most part it’s typical, excellent Staples. That it also dropped right before I went to L.A. was a nice touch for my first visit there.
31. Robyn – Honey
Okay, so first: Robyn is perfect. I also had no idea Robyn is Here, which totally holds up, came out when she was only 16 (!). Her releasing Honey felt like a bit of a revival because she hadn’t released an album since 2010, but she’s still very much in her prime (and only 39, not that there’s really an age cap on awesome pop music). You could argue four different songs as the best track on this album and argue probably zero of them as the worst. It’s 40 minutes of fun and feeling.
30. Michael Cera Palin – I Don’t Know How to Explain It
Loses points for only being five songs, one of which is a cover. Said cover – a screamy rendition of Sheryl Crow’s If It Makes You Happy – immediately enters the Pantheon of pop-punk covers, and the other four tracks are all excellent. Of any group on this list, I’m most excited to hear what Michael Cera Palin can do with their “awkward but still here for a good time” sound.
29. Marmozets – Knowing What You Know Now
Becca MacIntyre’s vocals are enchanting, the songwriting is sharp and catchy, and the lack of genre to confine them to should, I think, give them a broad appeal. It was interesting to hear this album and then go back to their debut, The Weird and Wonderful, for the first time and see their growth during a three-and-a-half year gap. Everything is tighter and more purposeful, leaving even more room for MacIntyre to shine.
28. Saba – CARE FOR ME
“I’LL ONLY SAY THIS ONCE CUZ I DONT WANT IT TO BE MISTAKEN AS ME BEING INSECURE OR ME SEEKING OUTSIDE VALIDATION IN ANYWAY… I KNOW WHAT I AM. BUT ANY YEAR END LIST (NOT JUST HIP HOP) ANY… THAT DOESNT HAVE CARE FOR ME IN IT IS DISRESPECTFUL” – Saba. Who am I to disrespect?
27. worlds greatest dad – get well soon
“I’m trying to stop focusing on the bad parts in my head” is a great snapshot of the album. It’s sad but still witty, catchy, and somewhat optimistic. I don’t know if I hear the The Hotelier comparisons, but there’s definitely some TWIABPAINWTD, and Maddy Duncan’s half-apologetic, half-wistful vocals pull everything together nicely.
26. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
This is such an interesting album. From the way the duo toy with the idea of the evolving physical self to the well-produced yet biting radio-ready hits to how truly out-there a couple of the tracks are, it’s one of the spacier and unique albums that struck that balance effectively. It’s a great mix of high-level song-writing and the perfect chord of modern synth-pop.
25. Leon Bridges – Good Thing
I really thought this would be much higher once we heard a follow up to Coming Home was on the way. It was just a heck of a year, I guess. This isn’t even a disappointing follow. In fact, it shows pretty remarkable growth in terms of Bridges’ perspective on romance and the further establishment of a sound that is uniquely him. He remains atop the list of artists I’m yet to see live and need to.
24. Hatchie – Sugar & Spice (EP)
This is a little more saccharine than most of what’s on this list, but sometimes I just want to feel some sweetness, you know? This sort of dream-pop vibe that the Australian has going for her – complete with a hard nod to Sixpence None the Richer – helps make the flowing transitions between unbridled enthusiasm and anxiousness seamless. Harriette Pilbeam has said she wants to get more poetic with her writing rather than laying it out plainly, but the more direct lyrical approach works really well with the ethereal sound of the EP.
23. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-
The first album to drop in 2018 came from noted Raptors 905 superfan and all-around good guy Jeff Rosenstock, who is on quite a run as the new voice of punk rock that still tries to matter in the traditional sense of the genre. He also had my favourite music video of the year. Jeff is cool and good.
22. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities
The slow transition from revivers of the pop-punk genre around the turn of 2010 to killer CoolDadCore in 2018 has been so seamless that jumping from Sister Cities or Cardinals back to The Greatest Generation can be striking. It’s a testament to just how good they are and Dan Campbell’s preternatural ability to write hyper-specific lyrics that somehow feel viscerally relatable. The first four or five tracks on the album might be the best 15-20 minutes on any album this year and Pyramids of Salt was among my most played tracks, but there hasn’t been a drop-off like this in the back half of the order since the 2016 Blue Jays.
21. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
I think this is probably the biggest risk of feeling way too low when I look back at the list down the line. Part of that is a late release and part of it is probably the lofty comparison point of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. This one kind of jumps all over the place stylistically, like there were maybe too many ideas to fit into one album after a few years off, but his own presence as a lyricist – open, raw, anxious – never wavers.
20. Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?
This album really doesn’t have any business being this good. I’m not even sure Alkaline Trio have any business being this good any longer. Ranking their discography is one of my favourite seemingly annual Twitter activities, and I’m very curious to see where this one lands down the line. It’s probably seventh, at worst, and I could see it maybe getting as high as fifth? It’s, at worst, their best since Agony & Irony, an album apparently only I hold in high regard.
19. Muncie Girls – Fixed Ideals
Lande Hekt’s approach being so literate makes what feels like a deeply personal album accessible right from the outset. The album kind of stays in a mid-tempo compared to From Caplan to Belsize, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, as it still does well to grab you and hold on to you from there.
18. Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
One of my favorite nights of 2018: I went to see The Front Bottoms play two EPs and an album front-to-back in a nearly two-hour set at Danforth Music Hall, then made it in time to Horseshoe Tavern for Hop Along. I wound up with a new roommate, went for late-night Caribbean food with another friend, then made it to another friend’s place to watch New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Dominion pay-per-view, which I wrote about for Vice. I didn’t sleep for like 40 hours, but it was entirely worth it. Anyway, Hop Along are great, that night was cool, and I’m very thankful I’ve conditioned my body to function off of Monster and Kenny Omega.
17. Mom Jeans. – Puppy Love
The incredibly punny California group doesn’t seem all that interested in taking themselves too seriously, which lends some levity to an album that is otherwise a little short on it. Yes, there’s plenty of self-deprecation, but at its core Puppy Love is a struggle through self-destructive tendencies. There’s an obvious desire to get better and a lack of faith in the process, with thumping horns and spiraling riffs to add senses of dread and panic, respectively. The album ends on a sweeter note than you might expect.
16. Lil Peep – Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2
It’s always a little uncomfortable when an album gets released posthumously, and Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 understandably feels unfinished in some places. The sadness throughout is all the more biting now, and while that’s a Lil Peep trademark anyway, it makes for a tougher listen. To be honest, Lil Peep was really not someone I was expecting to like when his music was first recommended to me, but here we are. Emo-rap, who knew?
15. Joyce Manor – Million Dollars to Kill Me
They’ve perfected the Joyce Manor formula at this point: Get in and out quick with 10 high-energy songs over 23 tight minutes and tour it with one of the highest-energy stage shows around. Barry Johnson’s song-writing has come so far, too, to where a handful of these songs probably could have been repurposed for a pop act and found tremendous success. To wit, I present you my favourite song of 2018:
14. Amy Shark – Love Monster
Like with Bridgers, I found Amy Shark’s 2017 offering, Night Thinker (EP), a little too late for inclusion. (I came across it watching Schitt’s Creek. It was just on in the background of a bar scene and I was captivated by it, googled the lyrics, and here we are. Shout out to Schitt’s Creek.) Once I did, it was pretty much a year-long love-in. The EP was great and, with the benefit of a bit more experience and things like a Mark Hoppus’ appearance, the album grades even better. I also saw her twice and, in a moment she’d later find out about and geek out on, saw Dashboard Confessional cover one of her songs. She’s great.
13. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
At this point, I would hear an argument that Barnett is the best songwriter on the planet. The bar was set extremely high with Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, a nearly flawless album, and this is a heck of a follow-up. There’s a tonal shift – this unequivocally feels like a breakup album – and Barnett seems to almost scale back a bit in terms of having her walls completely down. That’s part of the charm and relatability, too, as what could be more relatable to someone who can communicate only through the lyrics of others than lyrics about sometimes not having the words to express a muddled whirlwind of feeling.
12. Liza Anne – Fine But Dying
A thorough exploration of appearing okay on the surface and being far less than okay beneath it and the challenges of managing that dichotomy in relationships. She’s an incredibly talented musician on top of the lyrical relatability here, and the album really picks up steam as it goes, building from the earlier standout Socks to a Curry-Durant-esque one-two punch (I Love You, But I Need Another Year, which is too lethal to be a song title, and I’m Tired, You’re Lonely, which is basically every “U up?” text convo I’ve ever had) to close it out.
11. Retirement Party – Somewhat Literate
This is probably the best pop-punk record to come out in the last few years. Avery Springer’s lyrics and delivery are near-perfect as the album weaves through the usual topics of the genre with a hyper-analytical, backward-looking approach that can be dizzying with the urgency of the tempo. The search for answers doesn’t often bear fruit, but “Maybe I should just be a little more kind” as a potential solution is the type of hopeful sentiment Springer is sure to sprinkle in to keep the album from being too hard on itself.
10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Fun fact: Musgraves wrote Slow Burn after coming down from an acid trip where the phrase got stuck in her head. Second fun fact: It’s physiologically impossible to not smile listening to even Musgraves’ saddest songs. She is one of the best and sweetest songwriters going today. Normally, this list is devoid of country music entirely, and Musgraves has kind of reshaped the genre with this album, which teeters on the line of country and pop in such a delightful way that the classification really doesn’t matter much. The album isn’t necessarily happy throughout, but it’s light and upbeat and listening to it in the summer was nearly a guarantee of a good mood.
9. Soccer Mommy – Clean
When all of your favorite artists are tapping someone to open for them with growing regularity, it’s usually a good sign they’re someone you’ll like. (We call this The Tiny Moving Parts Rule.) With the sad indie rock surface and open, relatably simple lyrics more befitting the pop-punk genre, Clean is a master class in blending angst with subtle optimism, with a killer mix of aching ballads and more biting higher-tempo tracks. Sophie Allison is awesome and I’m really, really excited to hear what the 20-year-old does next.
8. Coeur De Pirate – en cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé.
It’s an incredible skill to be able to convey emotion through song without the benefit of words. Or rather, Béatrice Martin is obviously using words, they’re just in French, a language I don’t understand. In general, I’m very lyric-oriented, and so finding and falling in love with this album, and being able to ride the emotional waves and immense sadness of it, without actually knowing (until I Google translated later) what Martin is saying was a remarkably unique experience. It’s truly a haunting album. This tweet is also up there among the best of the year.
7. Maddie Ross – Touch Hands, Touch Bodies (EP)
It should be against the law for something this good to only be five songs long. It works perfectly here, though, as Ross urgently stiff-arms through all of the normal cynicisms about love to plead hey, dummy, love is dumb and we’re dumb and let’s just do it and pick up the pieces after. By the time the drum breakdown hits at the end of Physical, Ross has grabbed you by the wrist and is tugging you away from your inhibitions and effectively shoving you to the doorstep of your latest crush. The album spends the bulk of its 16 minutes building to the whirling crescendo of You’re Still My Sugar – at long last, The Kiss, a car-crash of emotion with an effervescent sigh that releases the hold of any remaining insecurity – giggling and screeching as it hammers away at walls you may have up. It’s gleefully exhausting.
6. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends
Yes, it felt a little awkward loving this album so much after what I had at No. 1 last year, but I think I actually learned a lot in hearing the two albums as I did. Hearing the perspectives on this album, in general, was really enlightening and cause for some introspection about systemic industry barriers (it’s not like I’m in a dissimilar industry that way). Anyway, the album is terrific, Georgia Maq’s sarcastic vocals pair perfectly with Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich’s almost mocking basslines (and good god, is drummer Sarah Thompson awesome live), and there’s so much emotional punch packed in every track. That they also seem like lovely people helps, too.
5. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
“My god, I’m so lonely” opening the first single off of the album, an upbeat and colorful exploration of having nobody but yourself, sets the tone for a somewhat weird and aggressively unique offering. Not that you’d expect anything else from Mitski, one of the most singularly interesting and talented artists of the last few years (Puberty 2 and Bury Me at Makeout Creek remain regularly in the rotation). The best thing about this album, and where Mitski’s evolved to in general, is the sort of comfort she has with all of the anxieties she explores like few others. It’s a very “it’s okay to not be okay” vibe. And it just really kicks ass, to be reductive.
4. Press Club – Late Teens
Nat Foster is the owner of my favorite new voice I discovered this year. Her scratchy lamentings of the angst of young-adulthood and the different definitions of home – where you’re from, who picks you up, who fits who you are now – hit all that much harder surrounded by emphatic power chords. (It should also make it a holiday favorite for those of us going back to visit places and people you no longer relate to much, which, yeah.) There’s not much hidden here. It’s raw, and the entirely self-produced project marries sound to theme. I hope more people check them out, because this one seems to have flown under the radar even though they should be sharing this moment of Australian punk mini-explosion.
3. boygenius – boygenius (EP)
I mentioned Bridgers off the top. Julien Baker has been on these year-end lists of mine twice in the last three years. Lucy Dacus is great, too. The three of them coming together to not only release a six-track collaborative EP but tour together as individuals with a closing boygenius set seemed custom-designed for Sad Twitter. The results somehow out-perform how it looks on paper. Each woman has a track distinctly her own, three tracks are more collaborative, and the net result is a painful, beautiful EP with a remarkable live chemistry. I still get chills thinking of their closing song at Danforth Music Hall. At this point, I’d listen to Bridgers banging pots together and singing a menu.
2. CHVRCHES – Love is Dead
My favorite synth-pop act made a really good album. It’s about as plain as that. It’s probably not as good as Every Open Eye or The Bones of What You Believe, but that’s an obscenely high bar, anyway. Love is Dead is a little more pop-accessible and hasn’t lost that perfect balance of Lauren Mayberry’s gentle-yet-piercing choruses and runaway beats. It is, like the two albums before it on their respective calendars, the best gym/running album of 2018, and it’s not particularly close. (By the way, CHVRCHES also did a song with J-pop star Wednesday Campanella and it might be the most stubborn earworm I got all year.)
1. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
I wrote about this album in a standalone piece I was/am hesitant to share because it’s more personal than anything I normally write. It was my favourite album this year.
My favorite live performances of 2018
- Gang of Youths
- Phoebe Bridgers
- Jeff Rosenstock
- Kacey Musgraves
- Harry Styles
- Billy Talent
- Dashboard Confessional
- Hop Along
- Camp Cope
- The Front Bottoms
- Amy Shark
- Joyce Manor
- Soccer Mommy
- The Wonder Years
- Julien Baker
- Maestro Fresh Wes
Playlist: Favorite Albums of 2018