The Best “Best Of” Lists of 2018
They highlighted the best music of the year. I’m highlighting the best highlights of the year in music.
I’ll keep the introduction brief. Here is a list of the best of the year-end “best of” lists that started rolling out after Thanksgiving.
The notion of what’s best is a distinction made subjectively. My “best of” list includes the lists I liked, not necessarily the best ones. Although I strived to include excellence regardless of my musical interests, for the most part, these lists jibe with my tastes in music. I included a YouTube video for as many titles possible (I chose YouTube because it’s easiest for everybody).
- Quality of writing. Good publications tended to have high-quality writing. I didn’t include lists that weren’t an enjoyable read.
- With a few exceptions, lists without an introduction or reviews were excluded. Folks, you’ve gotta write something if you’re a journalist.
- I downgraded lists without some sort of embedded streaming player from YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, or whatever. If you write a list of best whatever, please drop in embed code so people can hear the music. Seriously, why would you publish something expounding on great music and make people go elsewhere to hear it? But, I’ll point out that lacking embeds didn’t always sink an article.
- Do I like the music? What’s best is subjective, after all.
- I left out lists of local albums by city newspapers or weeklies. Newspapers and alternative weeklies often suffer from the “friends” syndrome: critics’ lists will often include local bands—their friends—that don’t appeal much to people outside their cities.
A huge hat tip goes to MusicREDEF for its helpful list of best-of lists. Seriously, peruse this monstrous list and you’ll find—with some digging—incredible music from every genre.
Here are my nominations for the best best-of lists of 2018, in alphabetical order (so I don’t have to suffer through a ranking process):
AllMusic’s Year in Review This is a master list that collects albums of all genres, sorts in alphabetical order, and shows how many stars out of five the album received. Three albums received five-star ratings (all classical titles) the rest were either four or four and a half stars. The advantage here is the wealth of information AllMusic provides on each artist. Normally I wouldn’t include a list that offered so few words about each title. However, the list is unusually thorough, and you can click any title to read its review at AllMusic. Also, I took points off for no embeds.
American Songwriter’s Top Songs of 2018 No artist received more than one entry, and I figure some artists could have had two or three. The big problem I have with this list is AS doesn’t mention all songwriters for each song. For example, Kacey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy” landed at #4, and AS doesn’t mention that Musgraves co-wrote the song with Nashville luminaries Luke Laird and Shane McAnalley. Eric Church’s “The Snake” (#5) was co-written by Jeremy Nathan Spillman and Travis Meadows. How could AS ignore the co-writers?! I gave AS’s list a few bonus points for including a Spotify playlist with all the songs (the order is reversed, BTW, so the #1 song is #25 on the playlist). Top song: John Prine’s “Summer’s End.”
Apple Presents The Best of 2018 Apps, podcasts, music, movies, television shows and books (including audiobooks). Nothing was written about each title, but I’m including these lists because, you know, it’s Apple!
Aquarium Drunkard’s 2018: Year in Review On the plus side, the list isn’t numbered; it’s a casual stroll through the music that caught his attention. On the negative side, there are no embedded streams.
The Atlantic’s Best of 2018 mega-mix that lists all of The Atlantic’s best-of writing. Why limit this entry to just The 27 Best Music Moments of 2018 and The 23 Best Albums of 2018? You also get lists of podcasts, movies, books, TV shows, cookbooks, television shows, and television episodes.
Bandcamp’s The Best Albums of 2018 Bandcamp consistently pumps out fantastic editorial that gathers and puts into context the many artists of many genres that use its platform. It’s great curation that ventures deep underground. Plus, each listing has Bandcamp’s excellelent embed for easy streaming. The #1 album is Everything’s Fine by Jean Grae & Quelle Chris.
Bandcamp’s Hi Bias: The Best Cassette Releases of 2018 I’ll quote the introduction since I can’t improve on it: “Cassettes continued to be a source of all kinds of amazing music this year, from the most obscure underground abstractions to the finest-honed songwriting. Our list tends toward the more experimental sounds on that wide spectrum, including noisy improvisations, groundbreaking electronics, surreal concept art, outward-bound guitar explorations, giddy beat-making, and delicately-crafted ambiance.”
Billboard’s 10 Best Reissues of 2018 Ron Hart authored a cross-genre list with detail and thoroughness. It was a big year for reissues of 50th-anniversary editions of albums released in 1968, but only two made this list. #1 went to The Beatles 50th Anniversary Edition. David Fricke’s list of best reissues at Rolling Stone deserves a mention, too.
The Vinyl Factory’s Our 12 favorite record sleeves of 2018 Twelve beautiful covers, designs, and packaging from underground and well-known artists. TVF didn’t rank its list. My vote goes to the John Coltrane 1963: New Horizons on Impulse! Records. Billboard created The 20 Best Album Covers of 2018 but my worry is Billboard doesn’t appear to have dug far beneath the surface; all the albums on Billboard’s are by (currently) popular artists. All 20 albums have great covers, though. Billboard’s #1 went to Travis Scott’s Astroworld.
Broadly’s 15 Albums That Got Us Through 2018 From the article: “More and more artists used their platforms to make powerful statements about race, politics, identity, and sexuality — using their art and social media platforms to demonstrate the importance of inclusion and representation. Also, some albums just gave listeners a sense of peace in this crazy world.”
FACT’s Best Ambient of 2018 Bonus points for doing a list on the seldom-covered ambient genre (not to be confused with new age). This list is unranked, so I picked a Kate NV song to embed a YouTube video below. FACT gets a few points off for not including embeds.
Forbes’ 5 Best Headphones For Music of 2018 Sure, why not include a list of consumer tech hardware? #1 went to the $1,000 HiFiman Ananda. Three of the five cost under $200.
fROOT’s The 33rd Annual fRoots Critics Poll Covering new releases and with a separate list for compilations and reissues, fROOT’s collection of outstanding albums is thorough and plentiful. I learned about more music from this list than any other mentioned on this page. It’s good enough that I can overlook the lack of a single embed. #1 album is Soar by Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita.
The Genius’ The Genius Community’s 50 Best Albums of 2018 From the article: “This year saw legends succeeding in the struggle to stay relevant, and newcomers proving their worth by forging something entirely new. Both can work, and our list is reflective of that. It’s equal parts fuzzy nostalgia and ambitious innovation.” #1 went to Denzel Curry’s TA13OO.
Getointothis’ Top 100 Albums of 2018 — A Year In Review One hundred albums, one hundred thorough reviews that average 100 to 150 words in length, I’d guess, and a Spotify album embedded with each review. At first, I thought the list was a collection of music oddities—I’m out of the loop, apparently—but the music is intriguing and the writing is crisp. #1 album is Christine and the Queen’s Chris.
Indiewire’s The 10 Best Movie Scores of 2018, Ranked On the list are scores to “First Man,” “Black Panther,” “Mandy,” “Eighth Grade,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Hereditary,” “Annihilation,” “The Old Man and the Gun,” and “Paddington 2.” #1 goes to Johnny Greenwood’s score for “You Were Never Really Here,” called “another of his inimitably dissonant symphonies” (Greenwood is a member of Radiohead). The AV Club unranked list of best scores deserves a mention, too.
MusicRadar’s The 16 Best Guitar Albums of 2018 This is the rare list based on a reader survey rather than journalists’ opinions. I’m reminded of sports leagues’ all-star games: because fans vote, the same players get voted in year after year. Slash. Paul Gilbert. Joe Satriani. Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello did a cool album that’s a mix of hard rock guitar and adrenalized EDM—but not a guitar album. But it’s not all solo albums by legends. A Perfect Circle, Architects, and Tremonti make the list. #1 went to Redemption by Joe Bonamassa. Guitar magazine also has a good, unranked list of best guitar albums.
The New York Times’ Best Jazz of 2018 If you know the legends but don’t follow contemporary jazz a whole lot, the NYT’s jazz list is a welcoming introduction. #1 went to Wayne Shorter’s Emanon.
NME’s Songs of the Year 2018 It’s a nice break from the U.S.-centric lists I’ve been looking over. As best I can tell, the title is a misnomer. Lists like these cover singles and don’t go for an album’s deep cuts. This list could have been renamed “Singles of the Year, “or “The Best Songs That, More Often Than Not, Were Released Before the Album’s Street Date So They Could Get Onto Playlists.”
Noisey’s The 100 Best Songs of 2018 It has variety—hip hop, R&B, and underground music that fits under the large umbrella generically called indie music. #1 went to “XO Tour Llif3” by Lil Uzi Vert.
NPR Music’s Best Classical Albums of 2018 If I were going to read one classical list, to understand a genre I don’t know well, I would choose NPR’s list. The authors give each entry proper context and description to better appreciate the music. And they embed a YouTube video for each one. Very helpful and big bonus points. And for an ignorant listener, this is a good place to start.
Opium Hum’s My 40 Favorite Albums of 2018: Not Black Metal or Doom Metal Edition A zig-zagging exploration of death metal, hardcore, punishing electronic, goth, and so on. Thoroughly enjoyable. Sadly, points off for no embeds. #1 is Double Negative by Low.
Passion of the Weiss’s Ghost in the 404: The Best Electronic Albums of 2018 Note: this is electronic, not EDM. A fantastic, varied group of releases. Bonus points for all the Bandcamp and SoundCloud embeds. #1 album honors went to Elysia Crampton’s self-titled album. Pitchfork also has a good list.
Paste’s The 50 Best Albums of 2018 It’s not that I loved the top-ranked albums. But each of the 50 entries is so long it could pass as an album review. Also, each entry has a link to the actual album review at Paste. Points off for no music embeds.
Paste’s The 10 Best Roots & Blues Albums of 2018 Just a good, solid list. #1 album is Vanished Gardens by Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams.
Pitchfork’s The Best Experimental Albums of 2018 The unusual and offbeat albums of 2018 deserve a list, too.
Rolling Stones’ The Best Music Books of 2018 Non-fiction Fiction Essay collections and photo books are included. What a handy list of titles! Keeping track of albums and singles is difficult enough without having to follow books, too. Pitchfork also had a book list, The Best Music Books of 2018, as does Vinyl Me, Please.
Popmatters’ The Best World Music of 2018 An enjoyable, diverse list of excellent albums—with embedded videos for instant gratification. #1 went to Jupiter and Okwess’ Kin Sonic on the fabulous Glitterbeat Records.
Popmatters’ The 20 Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Albums of 2018 Pitchfork has a similar list, and I included it above. The two lists have only two overlapping albums, Amnesia Scanner’s Another Life and Julia Holter’s Aviary.
Rolling Stone’s 20 Best Metal Albums of 2018 I need help finding music with properly distorted guitars. Rolling Stone put together a varied, approachable list from critics who wouldn’t get into fist fights over a strict definition of slam metal. #1 album is Sleep’s The Sciences. Rolling Stone, some embedded streams would have been nice.
Rolling Stone’s 40 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2018 This list has both mainstream country and never-to-be-played-on-country-radio Americana music. I’d prefer separate lists that reflect the commercial chasm that separates mainstream country and Americana #1 is Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour. Stereogum’s list of best country albums also combines the two genres.
Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Songs of 2018 A paragraph of whit and pith accompanies each selection. I like the variety. Even better, not every song is a single released by a popular artist. My guess is indie rock group Hop Along didn’t make many 2018 lists, but it appears here. Bonus points for giving each entry an embed to stream the song. #1 is Drake’s “In My Feelings.”
Stereogum’s The 10 Best Electronic Albums Of 2018 Many electronic lists are comprised of EDM music I don’t like much. I’m not sure when the schism occurred, but EDM and electronic have taken paths—EDM went pop, while electronic, as I would categorize it, became what used to be tagged as IDM (intelligent dance music). Aside from music preferences, I like Stereogum’s list for its thorough reviews. But points off for not adding embeds. #1 went to Sophie’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
Treble’s The 10 Best Electronic Albums of 2018 Treble put together a commendable list of electronic albums ranging from Aphex Twin to Nenah Cherry. #1 album is Yves Turner’s Safe in the Hands of Love on the legendary Warp Records.
Variety’s The 10 Best Music Boxed Sets of 2018 Do you say “box set” or “boxed set”? I use the latter when writing; it probably comes out “box set” when spoken. Anyway….here’s a quote from the article: “Most are focused on providing an expansive look at a single project, be it the 50th anniversary of amazing work from the Beatles, Kinks, and Elvis or a mere 25th for that young sprout Liz Phair. But occasionally, there’s still an entire-career encompassing set from a great who hadn’t been anthologized at all yet.”
Vulture’s The 15 Best Albums of 2018 While many publications chase shiny new objects, Vulture picks some good albums by older artists that get overlooked because, you know, “it’s not as good as their early stuff”: The Breeders, Gorillaz, Low, Mariah Carey, and Arctic Monkeys caught my eye. #1 album is Mitski’s Be The Cowboy (it topped some other lists not included here). Bonus points for including a Spotify embed for each album.
If you got to the end of the list, here’s a fun video to end with.