It may be hard to believe, but 2018 is already halfway over. That means it is time to sit back and take stock of the greatest music that has been released this year. A diverse selection of amazing R&B, dream pop, rock, and pop already makes up my 2018 playlist. So far no record has separated itself as being the best of the year, but there have been a lot of great of LPs. Without being ranked in any order, here are the 10 best albums of 2018 (so far):
The 10 Best Albums Of 2018 (So Far)
… with apologies to The Paper Kites, Middle Kids, Polica, and a host of other great bands who have released music this year. I can only 10 bands on the 10 best albums of 2018 list.
Florence + the Machine – High As Hope
The fourth album from Florence + the Machine is not my favorite from the band. There may only be one pop single on the record (“Hunger”), but High As Hope is quite good and is an enjoyable listen.
I am not sure if anything from the group will ever top their second album, Ceremonials. That record utilized heavy layers of percussion to relay the passion of Florence Welch’s music. Her last two albums (High As Hope and How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful) are a shift in style. Welch seems to rely more on her voice to relay that same intensity instead of her band’s arrangements.
Since she has one of the best voices on the planet, it is hard to argue with this decision. Welch particularly amazes on the songs “Grace,” “June,” and “The End Of Love.”
The video for the track “Big God” is an unusual cross section of styles. The song itself employs piano work that could also be found on Ramin Djawadi’s Westworld soundtrack. The video itself uses a lot of the dark water filming techniques from Stranger Things. Somewhere in between Welch and Co. are dancing in colorful attire.
Favorite Song: “Big God”
Leon Bridges – Good Thing
Leon Bridges exploded onto the music scene in 2015. His debut album Coming Home was immensely popular. By the end of the year Bridges had supported Pharrell Williams and performed on Saturday Night Live.
Despite the acclaim, his work did not resonate with me like many other retro-sounding bands (Allah-las, Nick Waterhouse) have over the last few years. I thought the record was solid, but nothing stood out to me as being special.
My perception of Bridges changed with his sophomore album. Released in May, Good Thing is amazing from start to finish. I love the record and how Bridges altered his throwback efforts to include a Seventies pop sound. At times he borrows from the same style of R&B that makes Bruno Mars so infectious, albeit without the Top 40 attention that Bridges deserves.
There is no way that Good Thing does not make it on my 10 Best Albums Of 2018 list at the end of the year.
Favorite Song: “Bad Bad News”
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
When looking at the best music of 2018, it is hard to not treat anything from Courtney Barnett without a certain reverence. The Australian singer is constantly observing, resulting in accessible minimalist lyrics that have made so many songs instant classics.
Barnett continues that style in Tell Me How You Really Feel, although the overall tone is less up-tempo than some of her prior work. That is especially true of tracks like “Sunday Roast” and “Hopefulness.” Midway through the record Barnett briefly pivots to a grungier sound before returning to her trademark tone. Tell Me How You Really Feel may not have a standout single, but the record is great from beginning to end.
I had the chance to see Barnett at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia earlier this year. During the concert she played Tell Me How You Really Feel straight through before it was released. It was a treat to listen to the new album for the first time in concert. Philadelphia-area songwriter Kurt Vile also joined her on some songs, cementing the show as one of the most amazing concerts that I have ever seen.
Favorite Song: “Walking On Eggshells”
Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
Dirty Computer has a chance to sweep the 2019 Grammy Awards and it is not hard to see why. It is a crossover pop album with an all-star list of musicians who contributed to the record. Monae was working on the album with Prince before he passed away in 2016. The megastar’s influence is all over the album, most notably on the catchy single “Make Me Feel.”
Throughout the record (particularly on “Django Jane”), Monae is reaching for something epic through her music. Every song is part of a potentially enduring and effective pop album that will cement the musician’s status as a top-tier pop star.
It certainly helps that Monae was surrounded by singular talent. Prince was not the only artist of note who collaborated on Dirty Computer. Brian Wilson, Zoe Kravitz, Pharrell Williams, Grimes, Jon Brion, and Pharrell Williams all lent their talents to Monae’s first record in five years.
Favorite Song: “Make Me Feel”
Queen of Jeans – Dig Yourself
I have written about Queen of Jeans a couple of times. They are one of the best Philly indie bands right now, but they had only released one EP (Queen of Jeans) in 2016. So far, they are the only Philly band on my 10 best albums of 2018 list. Queen of Jeans is a quartet that includes three women who produce a great version of a Sixties girl group sound without being a straight up retro act.
After a few years together, the group needed an album to put themselves on the map. In 2018 the band finally put out their debut record: Dig Yourself. The album is a great full-length introduction to the band. Whether it is a pop song (“U R My Guy”) or surf rock (“Sick Day”) the album features lush vocals and slick guitar that comprise a very interesting record.
Favorite Song: “Clever Hands”
Geowulf – Great Big Blue
Even if you had never heard of Geowulf, you probably listened to music from the band. Their song “Saltwater” was in a Corona commercial. The relaxing song defines the beer’s “life’s a beach” mantra, but is not necessarily emblematic of the duo’s early style.
As chill as the track is, Geowulf had already put out a handful of impressive singles before Great Big Blue. The singles drew from different styles beyond the beach music. The eerie song “Won’t Look Back” sounds like something from the Stranger Things soundtrack. “Don’t Talk About You” has a brilliant indie pop sound that is filled with brilliant pop hooks.
Like Queen of Jeans, Geowulf is another young band that needed to put out their first album to better define their body of work. The London band with Australian origins released Great Big Blue in 2018. The album included those singles but ultimately leans closer to the optimistic sounds of “Saltwater,” creating an indie yacht rock album. Songs like “Drink Too Much,” “Sunday,” and “Get You” return the band to that party sound.
While I prefer their other singles, Geowulf is carving out a niche as an impressive party rock band.
Favorite Song: “Don’t Talk About You”
Beach House – 7
The seventh record from Beach House encapsulates everything that I love about the Maryland band. Despite being a totally different style of music, Beach House albums have a symphonic quality to them in the same way that Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On does. They are sequenced well, allowing the individual songs to blend together seamlessly. That terrific organization helps Beach House’s collective sound reach a dreamy state.
Like my favorite Beach House album, Bloom, their latest work also allows me to become lost in their dream pop sound. 7 is a great record that I can play from start to finish. When I listen to complete albums I typically set aside the highlights and forget some of the B-sides. That is not the case with 7. The entire record is a great listen that I try to enjoy in one sitting as often as possible. This album is another shoe-in to make my 10 best albums of 2018 list at the end of the year.
Favorite Song: “Drive”
Sunflower Bean – Twentytwo In Blue
Sunflower Bean is one of the best breakout bands of 2018. The New York three-piece last put out music in 2016, a year that saw the release of the band’s debut album and a covers EP. One of the songs on that EP is a fantastic version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.”
I first caught wind of Sunflower Bean through their single “I Was A Fool.” The song contains such a heavy Fleetwood Mac sound that I would have believed it was a cover. Lead singer Julia Cumming is terrific on the piece and throughout Twentytwo In Blue.
Other highlights on the album include the catchy “Crisis Fest” and dreamy “Memoria.” The song “Puppet Strings” is an interesting song that contains a Black Keys influence.
Favorite Song: “I Was A Fool”
Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds
I have been hoping for new music from Jonathan Wilson for quite some time. Rare Birds is his first new full-length album in five years. He is one of the best young musicians working right now. Wilson has spent a lot of time creating music with other artists like Father John Misty and Conor Oberst.
I first heard his amazing song “Desert Raven” while waiting between sets of a Blitzen Trapper/Dawes show at the Theater of the Living Arts in 2011. Wilson’s spacey vocals and the David Gilmour-sounding guitar blended together so well that I had to ask around to see if anyone knew the name of the song. If you have not listened to his music yet, he is a highly-recommended Laurel Canyon artist.
A lot of that same “gotta hear it” sound is present in Rare Birds, one of my favorite records of 2018.
The album starts with the Norman Greenbaum-ish “Trafalgar Square,” a trippy song that name drops Norman Rockefeller, Harry Houdini, and Frank Zappa. Later on, Wilson’s driving “Over The Midnight” epically channels so many different styles that it sounds like The War On Drugs. Another great moment in album comes in “Hard To Get Over,” a lavish song whose primary rhythm is similar to Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
Rare Birds is a bold album and is Wilson’s best record to date. The only drawback to Rare Birds is that its length is a bit excessive. While I enjoyed most of the album, one hour and nineteen minutes is a long time for a standard release.
Favorite Song: “Loving You”
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Tearing At The Seams
The album is Nathaniel Rateliff’s third studio effort as the head man of The Night Sweats. I am not a huge fan of the entirety of Tearing At The Seams. It is the least likely record on the “so far” list to make my final 10 best albums of 2018 list in December. There are some moments of brilliance on this record which warrant attention.
Tearing At The Seams is a soulful album that contains a lot of throwback R&B sounds. “Shoe Boot” sounds like it is straight from a New Orleans street corner. “Be There” is propped up by an up-tempo jingle. “Intro” sounds like an Isley Brothers leftover. The album also contains slower moments such as “Babe I Know” and “Hey Mama” that veer away from the pop sensibilities of the band’s base sound.
Individually these songs are great. With that in mind, I probably have not listened to Tearing At The Seams more than two or three times. Every song sounds like it was created with a live audience in mind. The Night Sweats are probably great live, but as a studio work there is little flow to their most recent album.
Favorite Song: “Intro”
For the Flat Circle’s best Songs of 2017, check here. If you have any suggestions for your own 10 best albums of 2018 list, leave them in the comment section below.