Every year I take some time to reflect back over my favorite new music from the past twelve months. (For a look at my favorite albums from previous years, click here.) Streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music make the listening experience easier than ever — even if such services pay most artists a pittance to stream their songs. (See below.)
These are problems that can’t be solved here. But it’s a start to at least acknowledge them.
At any rate, the music of 2018 was mostly “meh” for me. For much of the year, nothing really grabbed me. I latched on to the new CHVRCHES when it came out in late spring; I discovered interesting artists like Khruangbin and Israel Nash; but I kept waiting for that one new album to really grab me from start to finish.
But in the final few months of the year, two albums emerged as favorites: one from a Fort Worth soul singer who performs in vintage clothing from the 1960s; the other from a Grammy-nominated CCM artist.
Best Albums of 2018
- Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child. Like many fans, “You Say” was my first introduction to Lauren Daigle. Admittedly, I don’t listen to much CCM, but I was bowled over by both the strength of her vocals and the depth of her lyrics. I heard “You Say” while I was preaching through a series on guilt and shame and her confessional lyrics — I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough — became something of a soundtrack as I reflected on those themes. But the song became deeply personal for me, too, prompting me to reflect deeply about my own inadequacies and shortcomings and the enormity of God’s sufficient love toward me anyway. When the full album was released in September, I did the full “deep dive” and discovered a treasure trove of similarly elegant ballads: “Rescue,” a promise of divine deliverance (I hear your S.O.S.); “Remember,” a declaration of God’s enduring faithfulness; and “Love Like This,” another rumination on the ineffable love of God. “Still Rolling Stones” is one of the few upbeat songs found here, reminiscent of 21-era Adele. But song pentameter aside, Daigle’s thesis is both hopeful and transcendent, communicated in both the album’s artwork and title: Look Up Child, a fitting message in these bleak times. Look Up Child is an incredible recording, my favorite album of 2018.
- Leon Bridges, Good Thing. Leon Bridges is more than a nostalgia artist. This seems to be the theme of his fantastic sophomore album, Good Thing, a fitting moniker for an LP chock full of earworm tunes like “Bad Bad News”, “Forgive You”, and “Beyond.” Sure, the Sam Cooke throwback sound is still there, but it is augmented by additional flourishes: the updated 70s funk/soul of “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be); the disco haze of “You Don’t Know”; and the modern R&B texture woven throughout the entire album. This is more than paying homage to the bygone days of Cooke and Redding; this is more of an update to those sounds, freshly rendered for the eclectic tastes of today’s playlists. Rarely has popular level music sounded so bright and vital. If you’re unfamiliar with Bridges, do yourself a favor and put this one on repeat. You won’t be disappointed.
- Israel Nash, Lifted. One reviewer used the term “folkadelic” to describe Nash’s sound, curated over his 10-year recording career. That’s an appropriate designation for Nash, a Texan singer-songwriter…only more Austin than Fort Worth. Nash’s website hails Lifted as a “modern day hippie-spiritual”, which also sounds about right. This album swings for the fences with anthemic choruses, orchestral backgrounds, and decidedly ambiguous lyrics. It mostly works, except for the occasional sunbeam reference. To get a feel for Lifted‘s aspirations, check out “Sweet Springs,” a delightfully beautiful song that sounds just like a summer day drenched in sunlight. What is the song about? I have no idea. But it sounds great.
- CHVRCHES, Love Is Dead. CHVRCHES have made their most accessible music to date, a synth-jam smorgasbord that my youngest son and I kept on repeat throughout the summer. Check out “Graffiti”, “Miracle” and “Get Out.”
- Jeff Tweedy, WARM. Between this album and Springsteen on Broadway, I’m up to my ears in late season confessionals from middle-aged rock stars. WARM is basically a Wilco album and I mean that as a compliment. Best track: “I Know What It’s Like.”
- Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour. Since I don’t listen to any “mainstream” country music anymore, I have no idea if the bozos in Nashville are playing anything off of this album. (I want to believe there has been sufficient “bro country” pushback to warrant a sea change. But then I remember that Florida / Georgia Line is still a thing and my hopes are dashed.) No matter; I will fully own this next comment. This is, hands down, the best country music album of 2018.
- Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo. Psychedelic, soul funk, instrumental rock. Those are the genres listed on Khruangbin’s Wikipedia page. And they all fit. I know it sounds weird, but trust me: it works. This has been one of my go-to albums in my office this year.
- Wild Pink, Yolk in the Fur. My favorite ambient rock album of the year.
- Hush Kids, Hush Kids. If you’re like me and you still grieve the loss of The Civil Wars, you should really check out Hush Kids. They’re phenomenal. I came across this album late in the year, so it may rate even higher after I live with it for another few months.
- St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Young Sick Camellia. I love the soul sound St. Paul & the Broken Bones continue to cultivate. I thought this album would have benefited from tighter editing, but overall, a solid effort.