As always, there are too many albums I didn’t hear in 2018, but here are 10 favorites in roughly chronological order.
Con Todo El Mundo
This was the runaway crowd pleaser of the winter, spring, and summer. Though they’re from Texas, Khruangbin’s hybridized funk invokes the musical reaction to ’60s soul that took place in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (the band name means airplane in Thai). But this is no geopolitical treatise—it’s sun-baked, chilled- out goodness.
How thrilling to discover a glossy pop album that sounded personable rather than generic. Major props to the just-out-of-her-teens Cabello, who’s willing to take chances with her voice and to set it in minimal acoustics as well as dance floor bangerdom. Here’s hoping she gets the creative leeway she deserves going forward…
The Good Is a Big God (Luaka Bop)
Rio’s Lancelotti evokes the restless creativity of the best MPB, incorporating and elegantly updating bossa nova, psychedelia, and turn-of-the-’70s pop. There are delicious instrumental nuggets on The Good Is a Big God, but Lancellotti’s vocals cast vaporous spells, especially on “Tudo Ao Redor” and “Insatiable.”
Every Day I Feel Like I’m Dying (Nevado)
I’ve long loved Roanoke dream
punk trio Eternal Summers, but
the first bars of Every Day It Feels Like I’m Dying felt like a fresh discovery—“Motionless” is a perfect indie anthem, tuneful and laden with anthemic keyboard-horn lines. It’s a golden rush, and an apt opener to the Summers’ best album as a trio.
Whack World (Universal)
My album of the year, video of the year, and artist of the year altered the trajectory of 2018for a great many folks. Not everyone seems to get the Philly rap/soul/pop savant, but those who do, really get her (signature T-shirt slogan: I WAS ADOPTED BY TIERRA WHACK). Joyous, poignant, surreal, earthy, and inspired above all, Whack World announced the arrival of an artist who instantly felt necessary.
Exotic Worlds and Masterful Treasures (Stones Throw)
Also from Roanoke (see above) is Sam Lunsford, who led jangle rockers Young Sinclairs and reinvents himself here as a blue-eyed R&B seducer, circa 1984. His retro-electro soul production touches are spot-on, walking the line between deadface serious and hilarious, but never overshadowing the earnestly good songs themselves.
Room 25 (Noname)
With Room 25, Chicago rapper Noname gave us the Trojan horse of the year, assaying sexual and social politics in an ever-smiling, girl-next-door voice. And the sunshine funk backing tracks make the incisive, even subversive lyrics go down that much smoother. Touring in early 2019, Noname should soon be a known name.
First Flower (Captured Tracks)
Austin’s Molly Burch has a jazz-school background and classic song-writing chops, and puts both on display on First Flower. Her voice, a cross between Patsy Cline and Peggy Lee, perfectly delivers these songs of humor and heartache, and the record floats by like jasmine breezes on the impeccable, twangy arrangements.
Magic Ship (Nonesuch)
A cappella I can deal with. These three Bennington pals intertwine pure, vibratoless voices on modern songs that evoke Appalachian/shape note traditions—not with precious, studied pretension but exquisite, sparkling vitality. Acoustic guitars show up on occasion—as does whimsy—but nothing detracts from the harmonies’ constant, sustaining wonder.
Interstate Gospel (Sony)
New country I can deal with (admittedly because it sounds like old country), delivered by another trio of pals. Apparently, country radio doesn’t know what to do with a No. 1-charting country album, which is all you need to know about the pitiful condition of country radio. Not pitiful: Pistol Annies, whose characters may be bruised, but are also resilient, wry, and headed for another joint.