Best Music of 2018

2018, whew. What a long, strange year it has been. I think for the county as a whole, many individual people, and definitely me. This was the hardest year of my life. It felt like everything went wrong, and no part of my life went untouched. I'll admit that ultimately impacted my listening, both in taste and time. Rather than catching up on dozens new releases every week, I found songs, albums and artists that spoke to me, and played them on repeat for hours. Having a soundtrack for you life, particularly when the journey gets tough is so essential.

Perhaps this change in listening explains why I chose to mix things up with my Best Music of the year list. Rather than the top 100 songs of year as I've done the past few years, I thought I try something new. Here's a playlist crafted with three songs from my top 10 albums of the year, plus my top 10 singles. It isn't in a ranked order. Rather, its crafted into a playlist that flows through different genres that I hope listeners with open ears will enjoy.

Plus, let's do a quick review of music trends this year! 

The Other Side of Nashville
Alternative country inspired by Americana, folk, rock and roots music continued to grow influence. Though Chris Stapleton had been leading this charge, he took it easy this year, and plenty of remarkable talent took his place. Brent Cobb recorded a breakout of a sophomore release, Providence Canyon, which was produced by his cousin, Dave Cobb, who has also worked with Stapleton.

Newcomer Austin Jenckes dropped one of my favorite songs of the year, 'Ride Away', which my brother and I sang on repeat at the top of our lungs while road tripping. Excited to see what comes next for Jenckes. He definitely has chart topping potential the likes of Luke Combs.

On the pop cross over side of things, Kacey Musgraves finally got the attention she has long deserved with Golden Hour. Plus Ruston Kelly, Musgraves' husband, also made waves with Dying Star, an interesting blend of Americana, and for lack of a better descriptor, emo (I don't remotely mean that pejoratively: I love emo). Kelly was also one of my favorite live performances this year, along with Caitlyn Smith, who released an album that include tracks from a previous EP, as well as the rollicking 'Contact High' that highlights her blistering, bluesy vocal skills.

My #1 single of the year was Cam's cover of 'Palace' by Sam Smith. I almost never put covers on 'best of' lists, so you know it must be remarkably good. With the dexterity of Dolly Parton, Cam takes this pop b-side and makes it entirely her own, somehow both brassy and heart-rending ballad that embodies the universal sadness of a love lost.

There were also several established legacies in this space that released career-defining albums. Underdog bard, John Prine gave us The Tree of Forgiveness, which explores familiar stories with a wisdom that endures, due to Prine's conscientiousness, his awareness of how time passes and tempers things. Brandi Carlile crafted one of her most personal albums to date, By The Way, I Forgive You, that dove into the moments that test our love and prove it true, like becoming a new mother and reconciling with a partner after a particularly bad fight. And, super group, Pistol Annies, comprised of the genius talents of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley, released Interstate Gospel, which is 2018's answer to the award-winning Trio recordings of  Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. It's exactly what a  cowgirl like me, who "loves country music and broken-in boots" needs right about now.

Honorary shout outs to Brothers Osborne for their bay-side vibes sophomore release, Colter Wall for reincarnating Johnny Cash in Canada, Ashley Monroe for epitomizing heartbreak on her solo effort, Steve Moakler for being my brother's fav, I'm With Her for mastering three-part harmonies, and Ryan Hurd for writing 'Diamonds and Twine', which will be my wedding song, if I'm ever so lucky one day.

Indie Rock Grrl Power
Caught in the wave of the current feminist wave, it's no wonder that there's been a sonic out crying of intimate confessionals from lady poets with guitars. My favorite of this set was Soccer Mommy, who left NYU to focus on her blooming music career. What I love about her is that she tackles common themes of female adolescence with stark honesty. Songs about being taken for granted by boys, struggling to find your voice, and idolizing a cool girl from afar ring with truth in a way the resonates through my heart.

On my local front, the hotbed of indie and lo-fi angst that is our favorite gritty city: Philly, Kississippi is poised to take the national scene by storm. One part fuzzed out guitars, one part sparkly vocals, and one part that feeling of driving through the city after a basement show and slow rolling through stop signs every block, 'Red Lights' hints at tenderness of new love.

In this space there are a lot of honorary shout outs, and I'll be 100% honest that I'm a little embarrassed more didn't make the official list. Please, please go check out Hop Along, Phoebe Bridgers, boygenius, Lucy Dacus, Savannah Conley, Remember Sports, and Haley Heynderickx. Really I need to make a playlist dedicated just to these awesome ladies, who are taking this traditionally male-dominated genre by storm.

On the dude front, it seems that several indie rock band contenders hoped to take a page out of the Portugal. The Man playbook, and score a radio-friendly breakout single after toiling away for years on the band-in-a-Dodge-Ram-van circuit. No hate. How can I not love these jammy gems that get the crowd going? If you need a pick me up, Parquet Courts with 'Wide Awake' and Gang of Youths with 'The Heart Is A Muscle' got you.

Pop Gets Personal
Times of economic strife and political unrest are tough for pop. At some point the escapism begins to feel vapid. Can you really rage at roof top parties with your future ghost of a Bumble date, and daydream of running way to Ibeza to pop bottles in the current state of affairs? For the most part, pop took a break this year.

This was good in a lot of ways, it allowed the cream to rise to the top. Truly talented pop artists had space to make intensely personal albums, tackling topics that challenge the boundaries of the genre. The 1975 released A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, which as the title suggests is vulnerable and scathing examination of Millennial dating and the contemporary cultural landscape.

Then late my new found spirit animal, Ariana Grande, released my album of the year, Sweetner. This saint of a woman took the mass shoot at her concert in England, her breakup from her "toxic" relationship with Mac Miller, and her whirlwind of a romance with Pete Davidson, and crafted it into a tour de force of an album that simultaneously sounds like a diary and a the universal experience of millions of young women navigating life and love. Voice of a generation? That might be hyperbolic, but I'm going with it. This album secures her a permanent position of pop royalty the likes of Madonna.

Honorary, shout outs to Robyn for her ongoing commitment to keep dance music smart, and Janelle MonĂ¡e for tackling similar themes at The 1975, but from yet another well-crafted alter-ego.

Sophistafunk, Aristocats, and Distinguished Dogs
In an ongoing trend of several years, thanks to Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and others, rap and R&B continues to get more sophisticated in its approach and artistic bandwidth. Plus, ladies made 2018 a "she thang", may their reign continue long into the new year.

Cardi B slayed 2018 with Invasion of Privacy, and became the first female rapper to have multiple #1 hits. She keeps it 100% with a real-talk approach to life and dealing with sexism that resonates beyond cultural boundaries, and is empowering AF. She is a mom and an entrepreneur with a sick flow. Even if you don't like rap, I implore you to give her a listen. Likewise, if you don't know Lizzo, now is a good time to get to know her. 'Fitness' was one of a couple singles she dropped this year, but I seems like something bigger may be in the works for 2019.

I saw a lot of different deserving rap songs on other top lists, including tracks from Earl Sweatshirt, Travis Scott, Mac Miller, and Childish Gambino, but my favorite from this pack was 'The Games We Play' by Pusha T. Sonically, this album hearkens to some of the seminal rap albums of the early 2000s, but the sampling is next level, and lyrics reveal the complex reality of selling drugs and living recklessly large. It is also deliciously concise at 21 minutes long.

The Internet released their 4th studio album, Hive Mind, to much anticipated acclaim. It's a completely cohesive creation from the collective, subtly blending R&B, funk, jazz, and sparse drum tracks. It's so expertly layered that every track flows seamlessly into the next, and audio gems are discovered with every new listen.