Each year as I compile my list of favorite albums I am struck by the variety of things I’m listening to, and also by the way my tastes change over time. I wonder if my taste is driven by the albums that are released each year, or if the albums I choose to listen to are a result of what I desire to hear? It’s an interesting thought experiment I suppose.
I can say that 2018 was a year of diverse musical selections for me. This year my tastes tilted toward the mellow and even a bit toward the alt-country/Americana. That said, I continue to be loyal to artists I’ve loved over time, like Death Cab, Franz Ferdinand, and Paul Weller. So here you go — my 10 favorite albums of 2018 (plus a few honorable mentions).
First, a few albums just fell just short of my top 10 but nevertheless are worth mentioning. Young Sick Camellia by St. Paul and the Broken Bones was a solid effort. This eight-piece soul band from Birmingham, Alabama is the whitest R&B act you’ll ever see with the most surprising-looking lead singer ever (what if CeeLo Green were white?). I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists was just ok for me, which is disappointing because The Decemberists have been one of my favorite bands of the new millennium. Still, an average Decemberists album is better than no Decemberists album and it’s worth a listen. Last year’s top album on my list was by the legendary Paul Weller, who continues to be prolific, this year coming back with True Meanings. After the force that was A Kind Revolution last year this one was a little too mellow for my liking, but still Paul Weller so it deserves a place on my list even if just outside the top 10. I really liked To The Sunset by Amanda Shires, my first introduction to her but she’s been around for a while both solo and with her husband Jason Isbell’s band The 400 Unit. To the Sunset has a bluesy rock feel that struck a chord with me. Finally, perhaps the most controversial record of the year was Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by Arctic Monkeys which was undoubtedly a departure for them but is a beautiful, moody, piano-driven anathema. I love Arctic Monkeys, and while I didn’t love this album I liked it enough to appreciate it for what it is — an experiment in pop weirdness.
And now, my 10 favorite albums of 2018 (and here’s a link to a YouTube playlist with a song from each of my favorite albums of the year):
10. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats — Tearing At The Seams. All I can say about Nathaniel Rateliff is that his music makes me happy. From the first time I heard 2015’s S.O.B. I was hooked, and this year’s album is really great down-home bar rock. Tearing at the Seams combines blues, rock, soul and a little gospel to boot. These guys are part of a great neo-soul/R&B movement that owes its start to the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele and The Black Keys. Other artists in the genre include the aforementioned St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Fitz and the Tantrums, Hozier, Kaleo, Mayer Hawthorne, Alabama Shakes, etc.
9. The Kooks — Lets Go Sunshine. I came late to the Kooks party but I’m really starting to enjoy these boys from Brighton. If you like bands such as The Strokes, The Fratellis, or Arctic Monkeys the Kooks will be in your sweet spot. I think they are a bit more musical than the typical post-punk revival bands which for me means they are a tad more accessible than some of their peers. If you want to say that means they are a bit more pop I won’t argue.
8. Frank Turner — Be More Kind. If you like smart, interesting rock and roll then you can’t go wrong with Frank Turner. He has been churning out great album after great album for years since going solo about 10 years ago. Hard to find another rocker who went to the London School of Economics and studied at Eton with Prince William.
7. Snow Patrol — Wildness. I’ve always liked Snow Patrol and Wildness is their best record in a while. For some reason, people either hate or love these guys, maybe because they too often get compared to the lightning rod that is Coldplay, but Gary Lightbody has a voice that I just love. Wildness is solid top to bottom.
6. Franz Ferdinand — Always Ascending. It feels like these Scottish alt-rockers have been around for decades, but Always Ascending is only their fifth studio album. I finally got to see them live this year (at a small venue) and they were fantastic. Franz Ferdinand is definitely one of my favorite 80s-infused bands along with the likes of Phoenix, the Kooks, Interpol and others. I love that Franz Ferdinand embraces their 80s sound. Always Ascending is a great addition to their catalog and I love it all.
5. Leon Bridges — Good Thing. This neo-soul artists from Ft. Worth, Texas is truly blowing up this year on the heels of his second album Good Thing. His debut album Coming Home (2015) evoked memories of Sam Cooke and Al Green, and while Good Thing brings a little more modern soul touch it’s still gorgeous. I suspect Bridges is on the verge of being a household name and it’s only a matter of time before the awards start piling up. I just hope he stays true to his soul roots.
4. Neko Case — Hell-on. The brilliant Ms. Case has found her way into my top 10 several times over the past few years, both as a solo artist and with “super-band” New Pornographers. Hell-on was definitely among the contenders for my top album of the year and it’s her best work since 2009’s Middle Cyclone. I can also say that Neko scored my favorite song of the year, Last Lion of Albion, which you can hear on the YouTube mix I linked to above. FYI, she’s an amazing Twitter follow!
3. Father John Misty — God’s Favorite Customer. No album made me happier this year than Josh Tillman’s (aka Father John Misty) God’s Favorite Customer. He’s such a throwback to 70s soft rock you can’t help but have visions of Stephen Bishop or Glen Campbell. But J. Tillman is all in on this 70s sound but with observant and funny lyrics. I’m feeling good; Damn, I’m feeling so fine; I’m living on a cloud above an island in my mind; Oh baby, don’t be alarmed this is just my vibe.
2. Lord Huron — Vide Noir. This LA “indie folk” band has only put out three albums but this is the second to make my year-end favorites list following 2015’s Strange Trails. For me, top to bottom, Vide Noir is even better than Strange Trails and I find myself listening to it all the time. I’d say it has been my go-to album for 2018. Vide Noir is much more than an indie folk album. It is flat-out gorgeous musically, perhaps because it’s their major-label debut.
1. Death Cab for Cutie — Thank You For Today. Death Cab has been one of my favorite bands for more than a decade thanks in large part to three great albums in a row with Plans (2005), Narrow Stairs (2008), and Codes and Keys(2011). I admit I was a bit disappointed with 2015’s Kintsugi, so when Thank You For Today came out this year I was only cautiously optimistic. I’m happy to say this album exceeded expectations and has returned Death Cab to its well-deserved place among my favorite bands. The album is strong from top to bottom with no bad songs and I absolutely love it. I hope you do too.