The Year in Music

The Year in Music

Looking back over 2018, here are my top 10 favorites among all albums released:

1. Low: “Double Negative” (Sub Pop)
Guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker’s vocals and instrumental work are fed through filters, effects pedals, and samplers to the point where this album would be almost impossible to reproduce live faithfully. The opening song, “Quorum,” is dominated by rhythmic loops of static. It speaks eloquently from a deep pit of alienation and despair whose sources are never fully spelled out by the lyrics’ allusions to faith, murder, war, and drugs, but the overall effect is an audio snapshot of the psychic damage caused by the America’s current toxic political climate.

2. Yves Tumor: “Safe in the Hands of Love” (Warp)
Queer singer/ producer Tumor’s second studio album is far more accessible than his abrasive debut, “Serpent Music.” “Licking an Orchid” resembles a ‘90s alternative rock ballad. But the sense of anxiety and terror remains. The neo-disco “Noid” locates it in police brutality toward African-Americans, but the rest of the album looks inward, addressing self-hatred and the damage we can do to ourselves.

3. Pusha T: “Daytona” (G.O.O.D. Music)
For an album whose main subject is cocaine dealing, “Daytona” is remarkably cozy. Without sounding retro, it feels like a lost classic of ‘90s hardcore hip-hop. Pusha T may be not be on the side of the angels, but he cares deeply about his lyrics, and he uses the subject of drugs as a springboard to discuss class, authenticity, and the history of hip-hop. Kanye West’s feature on “What Would Meek Do” is the album’s low point, but his production shows why we took him seriously before the MAGA endorsement.

4. U.S. Girls: “In a Poem Unlimited” (4AD)
Meg Remy, a singer/ songwriter who works with different backing bands under the U.S. Girls name, started out playing riot grrrl-inspired noise-punk. She hasn’t changed her politics one bit, but “In a Poem Unlimited” pursues a catchy dance-rock sound in a bid to reach a much wider audience. While it doesn’t quite succeed in that goal, songs like “Velvet 4 Sale” and “Pearly Gates” find a similar vein to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” except with lyrics musing on rape.

5. SOPHIE: “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” (Future Classic)
Trans producer SOPHIE has worked behind the scenes with artists like Madonna and Lady Gaga, but her debut album raised her profile as a solo artist considerably. With one foot in pop and another in experimental electronic music, songs like “Faceshopping” take unconventional structures and glitchy passages but still sound like potential hit singles. “Immaterial” simultaneously pays homage to “Material Girl” and critiques it, while the album’s chopped-up sound and bursts of noise reflect — as much as her lyrics do — her difficulty in accepting and expressing her trans identity.

6. Dos Santos: “Logos” (International Anthem)
The Chicago-based International Anthem label prides itself on releasing music that defies genre categorization. Dos Santos fits the bill, mixing salsa, cumbia, psychedelic garage-punk, and noisy post-punk, with lyrics entirely in Spanish. One reason rock music seems to be in a rut is that so many artists are just creating a pastiche of hip influences of the past without reflecting their own personality. “Logos” takes its inspirations and forges them into something new and resonant.

7. Rosalía: “El Mal Querer” (Sony Music España)
A Spanish flamenco singer might be an unlikely international pop star, but Rosalía has found herself in that position; her single “Malamente” went gold in the US. “Pienso En Tu Mira” may be the single catchiest new song I heard in 2018. Rosalía makes music that’s accessible to listeners who know nothing about the context from which she came without denying her roots, with beats bridging the gap between flamenco and trap and a Justin Timberlake sample.

8. CupcakKe: “Ephorize” (self-released)
CupcakKe has obvious precursors — the Prince of “Dirty Mind” and “Come,” X-rated female rappers like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown — but her mix of socially conscious lyrics and witty raunch is sui generis. She comes across as a three-dimensional person all the time. Her most explicit lyrics gain something from their proximity to the vulnerability of songs like “Self-Interview” and “Single While Taken.” Her anthem of LGBTQ allyship, “Crayons,” benefits from her complete lack of interest in respectability politics, as well as her good taste in beats drawn from hip-hop and dance scenes around North America. “Ephorize” was released on the first Friday of January; in November, she dropped a second, weaker album, “Eden.”

9. Kacey Musgraves: “Golden Hour” (MCA Nashville)
2018’s consensus instant classic, “Golden Hour” brought Musgraves out of the country music niche to a wider audience. Most of it suggests ‘70s Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac with a banjo rather than the gloss of contemporary mainstream country, and “High Horse” ventures into disco. But the mixture of innocent, stoned wonder (she’s admitted that two songs were inspired by an acid trip) with eloquent, witty kiss-offs to useless men is Musgraves’ own. If “Golden Hour” feels like soft rock from 40 years ago, it would’ve been remembered as fondly as “Rumours” or “Tapestry” were it actually released then.

10. Colin Self: “Siblings” (RVNG Intl.)
Inspired by feminist philosopher Donna Haraway (mentioned by name in a song title), “Siblings” combines dance music with noise, pop, choral vocals, and even opera in a rare level of conceptual ambition, devoted to celebrating chosen rather than biological families, from this queer singer/ composer (who also works as a choreographer). It’s kin to “Safe in the Hands of Love’ in its sense of navigating a disorienting world looking for comfort, although Self is more optimistic. “Emblem” and “Survival” deserve to become club hits.

With LGBTQ artists noted with asterisks, the runners-up are:
A.A.L.: “2012-2017” (Other People)
Anteloper’s “Kudu” (International Anthem)
Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin: “Awase” (ECM)
Behemoth: “I Loved You At Your Darkest” (Metal Blade)
Various Artists: “Black Panther: The Album” (TDE/ Interscope)
*Boygenius: s/t (Matador)
Chills: “Snowbound” (Fire)
*Christine and the Queens: “Chris” (Because Music)
DJ Taye: “Still Trippin’” (Hyperdub)
Drinks: “Hippo Lite” (Drag City)
Elucid: “Shit Don’t Rhyme No More” (Backwoodz Studioz)
Fauxe: “I K H L A S” (Chinabot)
Masayoshi Fujita: “Book of Life” (Erased Tapes)
Benjamin LaMar Gay: “Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun” (International Anthem)
Imperial Triumphant: “Vile Luxury” (Gilead Media)
JPEGMAFIA: “Veteran” (Deathbomb Arc)
Bettye LaVette: “Things Have Changed” (Verve)
Loma: s/t (Sub Pop)
*H. C. McEntire: “Lionheart” (Merge)
*Janelle Monae: “Dirty Computer” (Bad Boy)
*Meshell Ndegeocello: “Ventriloquism” (Naïve)
Ohmme: “Parts” (Joyful Noise)
Pig Destroyer: “Head Cage” (Relapse)
*Troye Sivan: “Bloom” (Capitol)
Slowthai: “Runt” (Method)
Sons of Kemet: “Your Queen Is a Reptile” (Impulse!)
Vince Staples: “FM!” (Def Jam)
Earl Sweatshirt: “Some Rap Songs” (Columbia)
Thou: “Inconsolable” (Community)
Tirzah: “Devotion” (Domino)
Tropical Fuck Storm: “A Laughing Death in Meatspace” (Joyful Noise)
Tunng: “Songs You Make At Night” (Full Time Hobby)
Tierra Whack: “Whack World” (self-released)

Finally, the 40 best singles (with no overlap with the above albums):
Jhené Aiko featuring Rae Sremmurd: “Sativa (remix)” (Def Jam)
Arctic Monkeys: “Four Out of Five” (Domino)
Lil Baby & Gunna: “Drip Too Hard” (Quality Control)
BlocBoy JB featuring Drake: “Look Alive” (OVO Sound)
David Byrne: “Everybody’s Coming To My House” (Nonesuch)
Cam: “Road To Happiness” (RCA)
Charli XCX: “5 In the Morning” (Asylum)
Eric Church: “Desperate Man” (EMI Nashville)
Code Orange: “The Hurt Will Go On (Shade remix)” (Roadrunner)
Denzel Curry: “Clout Cobain” (Loma Vista)
Cypress Hill: “Band of Gypsies” (BMG)
*Lucy Dacus: “Addictions” (Matador)
Hannah Diamond: “True” (PC Music)
Gesaffelstein: “Reset” (Columbia)
Ghost: “Dance Macabre” (Loma Vista Bodega)
Peggy Gou: “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)” (Ninja Tune)
Ariana Grande featuring Nicki Minaj: “The Light Is Coming” (Republic)
Khalid, 6LACK & Ty Dolla $ign: “OTW” (RCA)
Lorde featuring Run the Jewels: “Supercut (El-P remix)” (Universal)
*Demi Lovato: “Sober” (Island)
Ella Mai: “Boo’d Up” (Interscope)
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: “Middle America” (Matador)
MGMT: “Me and Michael” (Columbia)
Men I Trust: “Say, can you hear” (self-released)
Father John Misty: “Mr. Tillman” (Sub Pop)
Mitski: “Nobody” (Dead Oceans)
*Bob Mould: “Sunshine Rock” (Merge)
The 1975: “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” (Interscope)
*Oneohtrix Point Never (featuring an uncredited Anohni): “Black Snow” (Warp)
*Lil Peep: “Life Is Beautiful” (Columbia)
Pistol Annies: “Best Years of My Life” (RCA Nashville)
Rae Sremmurd featuring Juicy J: “Powerglide” (Interscope)
*A$AP Rocky & Tyler, the Creator: “Potato Salad” (RCA)
Travis Scott featuring Drake: “Sicko Mode” (Epic)
*serpentwithfeet: “Cherubim” (Secretly Canadian)
Shame: “One Rizla” (Dead Oceans)
Shifting Sands: “Run” (Fishrider)
Slowthai: “Polaroid” (Method)
Vein: “Virus:// Vibrance” (Closed Casket Activities)
Young Fathers: “In My View” (Ninja Tune)

Best unintentional homoerotic double entendre: “My weapon be the instrument, I blow you like a flute.” BlocBloy JB, “Look Alive”

Worst hit songs of 2018: Lovelytheband: “Broken” (Red), Weezer: “Africa” (Crush), Sheck Wes: “Mo Bamba” (Interscope), Kanye West & Lil Pump: “I Love It” (G.O.O.D. Music), and XXXTentacion: “Sad!” (Bad Vibes Forever).

Check out Steve Erickson’s Best of 2018 Spotify list at