Yes, yes, SIXTY records is a lot. Perhaps too many, but this guide is for those with a restless ear, not the faint of heart. There is some good music being made across the entire spectrum these day. New indie stars emerged like Ron Gallo and Caroline Rose. Rock n Roll mainstays like Ty Segall, Kurt Vile and Parquet Courts proved that they have not yet reached their peak. Kacey Musgraves put out her best work yet and completely crossed over into the conscious of non-country music fans across the globe. Pusha T proved that if the music good enough, you get away with a 20 minute album. Richard Swift left us with one more parting gift.
It was quite a year and we’ere lucky to have survived it, in more ways than one. With the global tension reaching uncomfortable new heights, music is a chance to escape. It’s a topic and art form that is worthy of bringing up at the holiday dinner table, and should yield some differing opinions that won’t result in Grandma crying or all-out political warfare. All the records below are worthy of your attention in one way or the other.
Below is a list of the Best 60 Records of 2018. Listen to the playlist below:
Caroline Rose lets it all fly on her new oddball pop record, Loner. Loner is as every bit inviting as it is delightfully sharp-tongued and quick-witted. It’s modern pop production pairs excellently with Rose’s 90’s Girl Power energy. It’s satirical, yet sincere.
A wandering cowboy type from Oakland, CA. In Heaven is Dick Stusso’s (Nick Russo) second album and first for Hardly Art Records. He wears all white suits and does his thing, no frills. It’s an extremely loose vibe, yet full of wit, style and underlying of sarcasm. Is he serious? Not sure it matters in the end.
The final album from the multi-talented artist and producer. Richard Swift has collaborated with a countless roster of high-profile folks and his producer credits list include The Shins, The Arcs, Sharon Van Etten, Kevin Morby, Nathaniel Rateliff. Damien Jurado’s incredible Maraqopa trilogy of records are often credited to Swift’s magic touch. “The Hex” is weird, sad, beautiful and excellent.
Freedom’s Goblin is a 19-track, 75-minute, double LP from Orange County’s most musically restless son. Part of 5 releases this year from Ty Segall, Freedom’s Goblin is full of every artistic urge he had. The Freedom Band, which includes Mikal Cronin, The Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelley, and Charles Moothart, all with impressive solo resumes in their own right, contribute equally to the eclectic goblin-y sounds.
DAYTONA aside, Pusha T had a huge year. His beef with Drake made serious headlines and for good reason, but that should not understate the quality of the music Pusha is putting out. Despite just 7 tracks, Pusha T makes the absolute most of the 21 minute run time. If You Know You Know is surely an anthem, but each of the remaining 6 tracks are just as good. Rick Ross lends a verse to Hard Piano. Even terrible person/great producer Kanye West has a verse on What Would Meek Do that is somehow not obnoxious.
Once Jonny Fritz starting stumping for for this record, you knew it was good. Turns out, it’s even better than imagined. Mariachi Static is chill and laid back, so it makes for good background music, but it’s way better when you’re fully tuned in. It’s deeply hilarious and Izaak’s Optaz’s songwriting is next level.
Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves’ 3rd record is absolutely nothing like her first two, Same Trailer, Different Park or Pageant Material, yet it is unequivocally a “Kacey Musgraves” record. There is soft guitar plucking, and her gentle voice, but gone are the cheeky turns of phrase and nearly childlike themes. Lyrics being always at the forefront of Kacey Musgraves tunes, on Golden Hour, she is more straightforward and vivid in real time. Her glittery flair has been swapped out for subtle electronic beats and spacey vocal effects.
U.S. Girls is the moniker for Canadian experimental pop artist Meg Remy and A Poem Unlimited is her at her finest. The record is a full band affair, complete with horn section and excellent production.
Brooklyn and Austin band Parquet Court‘s are rock n roll mainstays at this point. With each new release, they expand their sound just a notch, but they are still a tight, thrashing band. Wide Awake!‘s lyrical themes are as eviscerating and intellectually complex as you’d come to expect from them too. The end of the first track Total Football exclaims, “Fuck Tom Brady!”
Kurt Vile’s 7th record, Bottle It In, is long and weird with more than a small dose of attention deficit disorder. It’s an hour and change in length and packed full of everything Kurt Vile does. Kurt Vile does everything too, by the way. It’s twangy, but with drum machines. It’s synthy but with psych guitar. Its strummy and piano-y. The lyrics are even more Kurt Vile-y than his other records.
For an artist described mostly as a sweet, smoky vocalist, Molly Burch’s 2nd record, First Flower is bursting with a confidence unseen on her first (but equally excellent), Please Be Mine. There are similarities, for certain, like the cross sections of jazz and rock n roll. Her classical training is apparent, but on this new album, she lets her differing vocal personalities bleed through as she feels necessary, adding a certain charm to each song.
The Sha La Das are a father/son group from Long Island, NY. W.C Schalda fronts the group and his sons Paul, Carmine and William Jr. help him out on backup harmonies. Love In The Wind was produced by Thomas Brenneck from Daptone Records. The Menahan Street Band adds their usual, soulful backing sounds.
Shannon Shaw from Oakland band Shannon & The Clams goes solo in Nashville. Shaw teamed up with Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys who now mostly spends time as a producer in his Easy Eye Studio. Where the Clams are garage-y and surfy, Shaw’s solo project is far more soulful and loungy. She gets to lend her fierce vocals to some mellow, and fun tunes.
Ron Gallo does it all on the new record, Stardust Birthday Party. There are moments of head banging 80’s DEVO-twstyle rock n roll, with sarcasm and a dash of nihlism. There are some dark moments, but it’s equally hilarious all the while. Gallo is an extremely self-aware artist that realizes if he’s going to jump through the proverbial industry hoops, he may as well do it on his own terms. One a kind.
Damien Jurado went completely off the grid. He was in the midst of his 50-State tour, in which he picks a state and plays several shows in small towns all across the state. Perhaps it got him in touch with a new state of mind which inspired his new and 13th album, The Horizon Just Laughed. Fresh off a magnificent trilogy of records produced by Richard Swift, Jurado self-produced his latest effort. Like Maraqopa and it’s psychedelia-infused successors, The Horizon Just Laughed started as a dream. Where it differs is the overall tone and sound.
Kids On Drugs / Kill Our Demons / King Overdose (KOD). J. Cole‘s 5th album sees the rapper going further into his own world and into his own head. He clearly doesn’t buy into his fame or the music industry, but no one is more observational. He tackles strong topics like drugs, youth culture, and the American Tax structure and somehow sounds good doing it. What makes J. Cole so likable is perhaps because he seems so easy to relate with.
Florence Welch released her most personal, vivid and stripped-back record to incredible results. Perhaps it’s telling that two of the best songs on the album are simple one-word names. Grace, about her relationship with her sister and Patricia, about her hero Patti Smith.
Rockstone, the 2nd record from Jr. Thomas & The Volcanoes is the latest gem from Colemine Records. The album is love letter to Jamaican music by bandleader Tom McDowell.
Young punk rockers from England are more than thrashing and screaming. The production on Songs of Praise is fantastic, with long building tracks. Front man Charlie Steen more than keeps the definition of “front man” alive and well.
The Internet’s 4th full LP and the follow up to 2015’s Ego Death. Hive Mind is just straight up 13 tracks of good RnB. No skits, no features, no frills. Syd Tha Kid and Steve Lacy are both bonafide stars at this point in their career and both of their influence is noteworthy on Hive Mind.
Black Joe Lewis gets back to the blues. The Difference Between Me And You shares tales of real life human issues, isolation on the road on tour, and today’s struggle with culture and it’s appropriation. He manages to find new ways to tackle these complex issues, all to the backdrop of blistering rock n roll.
Seattle rock band, Sloucher channels the spirit of 90’s indie rock, without ever sounding hollow or overly retro. There are very few bands doing what they are doing right now, and that in of itself is a change of pace in the world of new rock records. In spirit, they use the same ingredients that Elliott Smith, Nirvana and Built to Spill use, but with such a modern quality and youthful energy.
BlackWater HolyLight’s self-titled debut is a witchboil of garage rock and psychedelic sludge with more than a few gothic undertones. The album, out on RidingEasy Records has moments of classic rock and modern punk. Pulsating drums provide an eerie backdrop for dirty guitars and borderline creepy synths.
Top Dawg Entertainment rapper released a complete collection, his first since 2015. With the backing of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock was able to round up a very impressive list of collaborators for the record, including SZA, J. Cole, Future, Jeremih and Kendrick himself.
Khruangbin is a formidable trio that hails from Texas; the band consists of Laura Lee who is a badass woman on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald “DJ” Johnson on drums. The band’s newest album, Con Todo El Mundo, comes two years after their first release, The Universe Smiles Upon You. The new album draws inspiration from both soul and funk, classic dub, psychedelic rock, as well as world music. They are influenced by sounds from Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East, and they weave these cultures together into seamless, catchy beats. – Rachel Bennett
Clocking in at nearly half the length of 2017’s armageddon-opus, Pure Comedy, God’s Favorite Customer is certainly more palatable. It’s almost as if Josh Tillman found the voice he was looking for, sharpened his audience and decided it was time to make a proper pop rock record. Historically known for lyrics dripping in irony, the biggest irony of all is that Tillman’s most accessible songs are perhaps his most heartfelt.
Midnight Noon, the debut “solo” record from Monteagle, is out now on Fire Talk Records. It’s the first project from Justin Wilcox since Nassau, the folky indie duo. The result is a confident and cloudless collection that feels equal parts New York and Tennessee.
A true modern day indie star. Phoebe Bridgers‘ star has been rising steadily since the release of Stranger In The Alps. She seems to get it. She is wise beyond her years in the terms of taking your art seriously, but not taking yourself too seriously. By looking at her instagram or reading her interviews, you wouldn’t easily be able to tell that her songwriting is incredibly sad at times. It’s vivid and dark and wonderful.
She also teamed up with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker to create the indie supergroup boygenius. Though a standout on its own, Stranger in the Alps is where it all started and a more complete project.
Matt Dorrien’s In The Key of Grey is built on predominantly slow, sad piano ballads. Being compared to Leon Russell and Randy Newman, the tunes are confessional, easy to relate to, and heartfelt. In the Key of Grey is a Northwest version of New Orleans ragtime. Northwest Ragtime, if you will.
Charley Crockett has been pumping out material since 2015, spanning 3 albums of original tunes and lot of classic deep cut country covers. His new record, Lonesome As A Shadow, is injected with a lot more southern soul. This, his 4th record, recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, Crockett blends some newfound grooves in with the dusty country sound of Texas and his own traditional Cajun roots.
Two of rap’s legendary enigmas coming together. Inspectah Deck and 7L, Esoteric are CZARFACE. They joined forces with the masked wonder, MF Doom.
Do not mistake Erin Rae’s soft, breezy sound for equally lighthearted subject matter. There is some dark shit on her new record, Putting On Airs. If listening purely on the surface, the album is insanely pretty, with stunning vocals. If listening with a close ear pressed to songs, you’ll hear tales of mental health, deep family history and quiet moments of talking to God alone.
Organ master and namesake of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Delvon Lamarr takes things as they come. He doesn’t stress about much else other than his Hammond organ. Their debut album, Close But No Cigar was re-released on the Ohio-based soul label, Colemine Records.
Scottish producer Kyle Molleson has slowly been keeping busy as Makeness since 2015’s Rogue EP. Loud Patterns is mostly instrumental with a few vocal features like on tracks, Who Am I To Follow Love, Day Old Death and Stepping Out Of Sync, three album highlights. It’s partially disco, part punk and part industrial. The record is precise and meticulous and yet remains a very smooth listen.
Four years removed from his most recent album, Black Moon Spell, King Tuff is back with a new sunny-day funk infused collection of feel-good tunes called The Other. Kyle Thomas is till a guitar man at heart, but in some cases the hardcore riffs are replaced by glittery guitar sounds and disco beats.
The Nude Party is a young band from North Carolina who released their debut on New West Records. Their music has drawn many comparisons to the Rolling Stones and 60’s era rock n roll. There’s a southern rock element at play with youthful exuberance. Dirty bar room rock n roll ain’t quite dead.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable, easy listening record than Detroit’s Bonny Doon. Longwave is the perfect combination of lo-fi, country tinged rock n roll that is ideal for long road trips, sunsets and morning coffee.
Anderson .Paak is a goofy and impressive dude. He is also a full blown star these days. His major label debut for Dr.Dre’s Aftermath was as anticipated as any record this year. For the most part Paak delivers on all of the hype. Oxnard is far more of a straightforward hip hop record than Malibu, but with still enough instrumentation for Paak to flex his musicality.
Listening to the new record, A Love Sleeps Deep, you can tell the instrumentation is a product of renewed focus and experimentation. The Moondoggies have always been a guitar band, but never this in your face, and this stretched out. At just 8 tracks, the music bends and burns for longer periods and at a heavier gravity.
Somehow Marissa Nadler is able to straddle the line of spooky and soothing simultaneously. Her voice is warm and inviting. It draws your ear in wanting to hear every word. Her songs can be dark at times, but mainly because you have time to analyze each line and grapple with its meaning.
Arguably every single song on Sex and Food can be unpacked and connected to this narrative front man Ruban Nielson has created about the strange, disturbing, and sometimes still lovely times we live in. This is an album where the lyrics really change the way the listener will consume and understand the music, and it might take a few times listening to it all the way through to hear it and feel it to the fullest potential. – Rachel Bennett
SLUFF is equal parts loud and spastic as it measured and highly listenable. It’s boyish energy is bursting from each song, yet there’s and underlying feeling like, “these guys have been doing this forever.”
Jonathan Wilson‘s Rare Birds plays like an artist and a man using the most of every instrument in his disposable. On it, strings and synths live in harmony with a cool, California-confidence underbelly throughout. There are certainly a few standout tracks, but the entire hour and 18 minute run time of Rare Birds is one trippy experience of sound and feeling.
As the man behind the moniker Cotton Jones, Michael Nau has “gone solo” over the last couple of years. By writing and performing under his own name, it’s allowed him experiment with new directions. The result to this point in time has been consistently catchy and easy listening tunes with a honey-dripped vocal efforts from Michael Nau himself, a perfect backdrop for those warm summer nights.
Jim James has released another solo record titled Uniform Distortion. The lead single, Just A Fool is a grainy, 80’s guitar lick that sounds like a George Harrison song, which yet again could signal another new twist to the Jim James catalog. A few months later, he released Uniform Clarity, a single-take acoustic version of all the songs from the “Distortion” sessions.
Amen Dunes has been around for years, but this year’s Freedom, took him to a whole new level. It’s as an eclectic record as you will hear from start to finish. It was recorded in New York and Los Angeles and there is enough sounds to fill the distance between the two cities.
Front man for the Athens-based, Dead Confederate, T. Hardy Morris has spent the last few years honing more of a singer-songwriter aura. His latest record, Dude, The Obscure is perhaps a medley of both styles, the grungy and loud southern rocker and the family man songwriter. Paired together is another step forward.
Liz Cooper and The Stampede create layered sonic textures ranging from psychedelia to folk rock, yet hard to pin down in any one category. The debut record, Window Flowers, features gorgeous sunny sounds with a modern Nashville sound, but with a slight oddity. Underneath the songwriting and musicianship, there is a noticeable edge to the overall vibe.
Matthew Houck‘s first record in 5 years was worth the wait. A relatively short album, with just 9 tracks and book ended by two instrumental pieces with Phosphorescent’s signature howling. The title track Cest La Vie is truly wonderful. The singles Christmas Down Under and New Birth In New England sounded unlike anything Phosphorescent has done previously, but in the context of the full record, they fit phenomenally.
Natalie Prass goes pop! Taking a major U-turn from her jazzy folk explorations, she is equally as breezy, but the songs are injected with bass and synths and serious fun. Short Court Style is one of the best songs of the year.
The roots of To The Sunset are still the same as they have been for Amanda Shires‘ previous records, like 2016’s excellent My Piece Of Land. She pulls directly from her own life’s experiences and creates poetic, vivid story lines tugging at all parts of the human emotional spectrum. The difference is now her words are surrounded by far more keyboards and synth sounds than straight fiddle and the acoustic guitars are swapped out for her husband, Jason Isbell’s electric guitar solos and overall grit.
Maybe it’s the fact that there are two songs with “kindness” in the title, but something about Courtney Marie Andrews’ music makes you want to be kinder to people. There is a down-home attitude and warmth to the entire record that make you want to be a better person; to pay more attention to small details, to take solace in the things you can control and make of the most of relationships with the people closest to you.
HYWAYS, the new name, the new band, the new tunes is a total change of pace for Mike Giacolino and crew. From the first track of the self-titled album, you can tell HYWAYS shares some similarities to Ole Tinder, but that the new name change was needed to properly encapsulate the vibes. HYWAYS the record, takes a few cues from the classic California country records from the 70’s, but just as much from psychedelia and prog-rock.
Haley Heynderickx‘s debut LP, I Need To Start A Garden, will demand re-categorization. She will no longer be just an Northwest artist, but a nationally touring force. Despite deeply personal, her work has worldly appeal.
At its core, All These Worlds Are Yours is a pop record, but experimentation runs rampant and there are industrial garage flavors sprinkled ON and within it all.
Devin Champlin, Dean Johnson, Sam Gelband, and Charlie Meyer make up the Seattle super group of country rockers and singers. The guys’ effortless chemistry makes for a fun, laid back record. The songs can turn a rainy Seattle day into a long summery day in the Northwest.
County Seat shares a lot of the classic country themes, like lost loves, drinking too much and hometown nostalgia, yet Will Stewart‘s voice and outlook gives off a sense of refreshment.
Technically this is a package of Amy & The Sniffers’ 2016 and 2017 EPs, but it’s too fun and too good not to include. The Melbourne band is brash and loud and primed for a big 2019 and beyond. Front woman Amy Taylor is a true force of Nature.
Sometimes the simplest pleasures are best kind, and sometimes all you need is a voice and guitar. Portland songwriter, Faustina Masigat is the latest gem from Mama Bird Recording Co. Masigat’s debut LP comes in the form of a self-titled collection of introspective folks tunes.
A Seattle All-Star record of sorts. Ishmael Butler, of Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces fame teamed with Erik Blood, who has produced a number of Seattle based artists over the years. Knife Knights evolves after ever listen. It’s experimental and new sounds seems to emerge each time through.
Listen to the BEST WHATEVER  RECORDS OF 2018 (PLAYLIST)