This year was full of great releases, and while 2017 may have outdone 2018 in music, there’s still plenty to hear. Two movie soundtracks appear on this year’s list – it’s entirely dictated by my personal tastes and not meant to be all-inclusive. If you like any of these picks (or strongly disagree with one), let me know in the comments.
10. Lifers – Cody Jinks
I usually don’t listen to the current trend of Alternative Country bands that sound like a cross between Waylon Jennings and a Great Value version of the Allman Brothers. There’s something that separates Jinks, though, from being ordinary, and I think it’s how melodic songs like “Must Be The Whiskey” and “Head Case” are. The former might have one of the best choruses I’ve ever heard.
9. Tell No One – Bad Moves
The first time I heard Bad Moves, an Indie outfit from Washington, D.C., it was at one of their live shows. Let me tell you: this band has undeniable chemistry with songs to back it up. Many groups in this genre will leave you wanting to schedule an appointment with your therapist, but that’s not the case here; they’re energetic, original, and exciting. You should also listen to “The Verge” from their self-titled 2016 EP (it’s their favorite release of mine).
8. Young Sick Camellia – St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Paul Janeway of Birmingham, AL is one of the most captivating frontmen in music right now, and his incredible vocal ability is thoroughly showcased on Young Sick Camellia. This is their most experimental release yet, and while it’s hard to pin down to a specific genre, it’s a record that fans of any niche in music could admire. I saw them debut this album in Tuscaloosa, AL the day of its release, and they put on a formidable live show to supplement such a dynamic work.
7. Encore – Anderson East
Soul singer Anderson East immediately impresses. He may not be flamboyant or the type to ostentatiously show off his range, but he seems throw all of his heart into songs such as “If You Keep Leaving Me” or “Without You.” With help from the acclaimed producer David Cobb, East stays true to his Shoals-inspired roots while sonically remaining spontaneous and original. This release is probably more appealing to mainstream audiences because of songs like “All On My Mind,” which isn’t always a bad thing.
6. To The Sunset – Amanda Shires
A stark contrast to her previous material, this album tends to use overdriven guitars and synthesizers unlike her acoustic-dominated past releases. Shires is a poet at heart, and like her hero Leonard Cohen, she blends the abstract and personal experiences in admirable harmony with one another. In a previous article, I discussed how To The Sunset is beginning to represent the future of rock music; the genre’s roots in folk, country, and blues music are slowing becoming more prominent. No way that this record is anything close to being derivative, though.
5. Historian – Lucy Dacus
I’ll admit that I should’ve discovered this artist much sooner than I did this year (that’s because it was a few weeks ago). It’s likely that there’s an end-of-year list for music that doesn’t mention this release, but with good reason. Best described using the all-inclusive term of an indie artist, this release is dark and heavy; it sounds like a more rock-oriented version of a Big Thief record, but I don’t think it’s fair to only describe Dacus’ music in comparison to another artist: she’s fantastic in her own right. Sasha Geffen of Pitchfork claims that Historian is a deep-digging work about “the way people carry each other through time,” and there’s nothing more fitting than that.
4. Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By – Kendrick Lamar, SZA, The Weeknd
Kendrick Lamar is an incredible artist who is worthy of the title of the best; Raymond Cummings of Spin describes how Lamar “ambles in and out of songs like a hype-man or an over-attentive party host,” as he ad-libs masterfully on most of the tracks. He and other contributors ranging from Electronic R&B producer James Blake to Soul songwriter SZA helped to create a lively, dynamic record that was the perfect addition to an already-great film.
3. The Tree of Forgiveness – John Prine
Has anyone over the age of 70 has ever released an album this fantastic (and that includes the piece of garbage Paul McCartney put out this year)? Prine is honest with listeners, as he confronts internal battles of loneliness and heartbreak, while delving into the nation’s current political climate on the allegorical track “Caravan of Fools.” This record feels conversational, with his signature wordplay present throughout. If you want to read more, go here for the original review.
2. A Star Is Born Soundtrack – Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper
I was blown away by A Star Is Born. This might be the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard, and there’s not many songs that I dislike here. Jason Isbell’s song “Maybe It’s Time” is a phenomenally-written piece that Bradley Cooper made even better. Lady Gaga’s performance was incredibly dynamic and powerful, whether it be on the soul-shattering chorus of “Shallow” or the tear-inducing ballad “I’ll Always Remember Us This Way”; this might be the best work she’s ever done, but I’ll let her more devoted fans decide that. Seeing the movie adds layers of meaning to the songs, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this film, do it up.
1. Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves
I would never have guessed in January that a Pop Country album would be topping this list, but there’s something unique about Golden Hour that’s incredibly appealing. I’m not sure if it’s Musgraves’ straightforward, memorable lyrics or the radical transitions from the comforting banjo on “Space Cowboy” to the disco-infused “High Horse,” but this is an album with near-perfect balance. The listener feels heartbroken, romantic, and empowered in all of the right moments; that’s probably why it won Album of the Year at the 2018 CMA Awards. She’s managed to remain authentic in mainstream country music, and that’s something that should be celebrated and applauded right now. Worshiping Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash is growing old –- she’s the genre’s future whether you like it or not.