I don’t know how to sum up 2018. At the end of most years, it’s possible to look back and see certain themes or narratives or big ideas coming through in the music from the past 12 months. 2018 was not one of those years. Most of the industry’s biggest stars sat the year out, and music critics couldn’t agree on a consensus album of the year pick. Instead, 2018 as a music year was chaotic. It was a dozen jukeboxes playing in the same bar at the same time, one blasting a starry-eyed country album about love, the next broadcasting a rock ‘n’ roll anthem about how it would be great if the human race didn’t fuck up the chance we’ve been given to, you know, exist.
But music years like this are thrilling for their seeming lack of structure or narrative. They are chances for underdogs to fight their way to the top, or for new superstars to be born in place of the old ones. 2018 was that kind of year for music, and it was dazzling to behold. The only option was to dive headfirst into the chaos and embrace the many disparate triumphs that came along the way. This list, of our 30 favorite albums of the year, is symbolic of that leap of faith, a wildly dynamic set of records that includes callbacks to this community’s roots, monuments to how we have grown over the years, and signposts to where we are going. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of this site for another year, and to see the way we all share the music we love with one another. This list was made in that spirit, of discovery and shared passion, and I can’t think of a better way to sum up such a chaotic year.
I’m never sure what to write at the outset of this post. How do you sum up an entire year in a few paragraphs? It was a big year in my life, marked by a move back to my childhood hometown and a few big leaps forward in my professional life. I was busier, which left less time for discovering new music and less time for writing about it. Still, 22 of the 40 artists on the list below have never featured on a year-end list of mine in the past, and two of my top three albums are debuts. I always like knowing that there is new talent on the horizon, artists that might morph from big surprises this year to favorite artists a few years down the line. 2018 was a wonderful year for that kind of discovery.
In terms of my favorite music, I was all over the map in 2018. I leaned a little less on country than I have for the past few years, though there are still plenty of country and Americana artists on this list. Mostly, I was looking for songwriting that spoke to where I am at this current moment in my life. A lot of what resonated spoke of nostalgia and the past, a fitting theme given that I’ve been out of high school for almost 10 years now. I thought a lot about growing older in 2018, and about the shifting chapters of my life. The music, from Andrew McMahon’s “House in the Trees” to Lori McKenna’s “People Get Old” to Donovan Woods’ “Next Year,” told me that I wasn’t alone in feeling what I was feeling. As I get further from high school, I’m constantly wondering if I’ll get to a point where I’ll stop relating to music in the fiercely personal, autobiographical way that I always have. It’s a comfort to know that hearing the right song at the right time still feels as potent and poignant as it did when I was 17.
I’m rambling, as I always do at the start of these posts. So, I think I’ll stop now and let the 40 albums listed below speak for themselves.
When I look back on the year of music that was 2018, I can’t help but marvel at the great mix of variety and strength of material that came out of it. From polished singer-songwriter material to stadium ready anthems, this year had it all. Here is my list of the 30 albums that had the biggest impact on me:
Another year is in the books, and I must say, this was one of my favorite years for music in a long while. I felt like I was discovering new music, or a new album to fall in love with, on a regular basis. And then the albums that ended up connecting with me, really hit me. It’s comforting to know that even when the rest of the world can feel like a mess, music still can find a way to cut through and make things feel a little better, if only for the duration of a great song.
After much deliberation, I’ve put together my favorite music, movies, tv shows, books, and apps from the past year. I’ve included playlists where appropriate, and I hope you’ll find something that will connect with you the way it has me.