The Best of Me, 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

I'm gonna do a shorter overview of stuff I wrote this year, because I did less freelancing in 2018 than I have in years past, but I really liked some of the stuff I did do.

For Spin, I reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly of Trump-era political rock albums by SuperchunkMudhoney and Thirty Seconds To Mars.

For Vulture, I wrote about the state of Young Thug's career in 2018, and surveyed Aretha Franklin's career via her b-sides.

For Complex, I updated (and, in my opinion, improved) my old list of the hardest beats ever, and wrote about the rise of TV shows about hitmen.

For The Dowsers, I made playlists of raunchy sex-themed rap songs throughout hip hop history, Future's best work with Zaytoven leading up to Beast Mode 2.

For Noisey, I reviewed Tha Carter V, and continued my long-running Remix Report Card column.

For City Pages, I updated some of my old Deep Album Cuts playlists with new songs and new essays, including Brandy, Paramore, Taylor Swift and Elvis Costello.

And of course, I wrote a bunch of my usual stuff here on Narrowcast, including about 20,000 words in December about my top 50 albums, top 100 singles and top 50 TV shows of 2018.

One of the reasons I've been doing less freelancing is because I've been focusing more on making music, and I released a lot of stuff I'm proud of this year. I released an EP by my main songwriting outlet Western Blot, and the first single from the full-length album coming out in 2019. The trio I play drums for, Woodfir, released its second EP of a couple of our fastest tunes. I compiled and released every song recorded by another band I played drums for, Golden Beat, that I adored and that broke up a couple years ago. And I contributed drum loops for a couple tracks on Doc Heller's recent album.

My Top 100 Singles of 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

I already did my genre lists of my favorite rap, pop, country, rock and R&B singles of the year, but now comes the time to pour them together into one big list. The artists, producers and songwriters who appear on this list 3 times each are Ariana Grande, Cardi B, Offset, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, Jay Joyce, Dann Huff, and Shane McAnally. 

Here's all 100 songs in a Spotify playlist. And here's my top 50 albums and top 50 TV shows of 2018. 

1. Ella Mai - "Boo'd Up" 
2. Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey - "The Middle" 
3. Ariana Grande - "No Tears Left To Cry"
4. Jay Rock f/ Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake - "King's Dead" 
5. Cardi B f/ Bad Bunny and J Balvin - "I Like It"
6. Lil Baby f/ Moneybagg Yo - "All Of A Sudden"
7. The Interrupters - "She's Kerosene" 
8. YG f/ 2 Chainz, Big Sean and Nicki Minaj - "Big Bank"
9. Thomas Rhett - "Marry Me" 
10. Jacquees - "You" 
11. Daniel Caesar f/ H.E.R. - "Best Part"
12. Brothers Osborne - "Shoot Me Straight" 
13. Dennis Lloyd - "Nevermind"
14. King Princess - "1950"
15. The 1975 - "Love It If We Made It" 
16. Gallant - "Doesn't Matter"
17. Bruno Mars f/ Cardi B - "Finesse (Remix)"
18. Jimmie Allen - "Best Shot"
19. Darius Rucker - "For The First Time"
20. Bebe Rexha f/ Florida Georgia Line - "Meant To Be" 
21. Drake - "Nice For What" 
22. Migos - "Stir Fry"
23. Derez De'Shon - "Hardaway"
24. Ashley McBryde - "A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega"
25. Rae Sremmurd f/ Juicy J - "Powerglide"
26. Bastille - "World Gone Mad"
27. The Glorious Sons - "S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun)" 
28. Queen Naija - "Medicine" 
29. Jason Aldean - "You Make It Easy"
30. Keith Urban f/ Julia Michaels - "Coming Home" 
31. Carly Pearce - "Hide The Wine"
32. Jeremih & Ty Dolla Sign - "The Light" 
33. Guns N' Roses - "Shadow Of Your Love"
34. Khalid & Normani - "Love Lies" 
35. Shawn Mendes - "In My Blood"
36. Lil Wayne - "Uproar" 
37. Twenty One Pilots - "Jumpsuit" 
38. Florence + The Machine - "Hunger" 
39. AJR f/ Rivers Cuomo - "Sober Up"
40. James Bay - "Pink Lemonade" 
41. Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa - "One Kiss"  
42. Justin Timberlake f/ Chris Stapleton - "Say Something" 
43. 5 Seconds Of Summer - "Youngblood"  
44. Taylor Swift - "Delicate" 
45. Lauv - "I Like Me Better"
46. Dorothy - "Flawless"
47. Jukebox The Ghost - "Everybody's Lonely" 
48. Lindsay Ell - "Criminal" 
49. Kane Brown - "Heaven"
50. Travis Denning - "David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs"
51. Tamia - "Leave It Smokin'" 
52. SZA - "Broken Clocks" 
53. Teyana Taylor - "Gonna Love Me" 
54. Jacquees and Dej Loaf - "At The Club"
55. Ne-Yo - "Good Man"
56. Ariana Grande - "Breathin"
57. Backstreet Boys - "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" 
58. Maroon 5 - "Wait"
59. Kygo f/ Miguel - "Remind Me To Forget"
60. Chris Stapleton - "Broken Halos"
61. Morgan Wallen f/ Florida Georgia Line - "Up Down"  
62. Bastille & Marshmello - "Happier"
63. Foo Fighters - "The Line"
64. Carrie Underwood - "Cry Pretty" 
65. Midland - "Burn Out" 
66. Dan + Shay - "Tequila" 
67. Yella Beezy - "That's On Me" 
68. Flipp Dinero - "Leave Me Alone"
69. Travis Scott f/ Drake - "Sicko Mode" 
70. Offset and Metro Boomin - "Ric Flair Drip"
71. Miguel f/ J. Cole and Salaam Remi - "Come Through And Chill"
72. John Legend f/ BloodPop - "A Good Night"
73. H.E.R. - "Focus"
74. Mary J. Blige - "Only Love"  
75. Rich The Kid f/ Kendrick Lamar - "New Freezer"
76. Lil Baby & Gunna - "Drip Too Hard"
77. Cardi B f/ 21 Savage - "Bartier Cardi"
78. Meek Mill f/ Jeremih and PNB Rock - "Dangerous"
79. Manchester Orchestra - "The Gold"
80. Vance Joy - "Saturday Sun"
81. Maren Morris - "Rich" 
82. Sugarland f/ Taylor Swift - "Babe" 
83. Eric Church - "Desperate Man"
84. Sam Hunt - "Downtown's Dead" 
85. The Carters - "Apeshit" 
86. Ball Greezy f/ Lil Dred - "Nice & Slow"
87. Kendrick Lamar and SZA - "All The Stars"
88. Post Malone f/ Ty Dolla Sign - "Psycho" 
89. Pink - "Beautiful Trauma" 
90. Troye Sivan - "My My My!"
91. Kent Jones - "Merengue" 
92. Demi Lovato - "Tell Me You Love Me" 
93. Ariana Grande - "Thank U, Next"
94. Tory Lanez f/ Rich The Kid - "Talk To Me" 
95. Maxwell - "Shame" 
96. Janelle Monae - "I Like That" 
97. Panic! At The Disco - "Say Amen (Saturday Night)"
98. Imagine Dragons - "Natural" 
99. Billie Eilish - "You Should See Me In A Crown"
100. Lil Duval f/ Snoop Dogg and Ball Greezy - "Smile (Living My Best Life)" 

My Top 50 Albums of 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

I hear a lot these days about the downsides of being a music lover in 2018, the constant rush of new music, the way so little of it seems to stick, the way playlists and algorithms are shaping who listens to what in strange and suspicious new ways. But let me say this: I grew up spending as much of my disposable income on overpriced CDs as I could, and a lot of them sit in boxes in my attic, many of them more out of sentimental value than utility. And while I didn't know exactly what shape it would take, I dreamed of a time when music was as cheap and instantaneously available as it is today. It's a fucking wonderland. I have my criticisms of Spotify and Apple, I think all these streaming services should charge more and give a larger percentage to the musicians, but all in all, it's a great time to love music. I think everybody could stand to take a step back and listen to more of the previous century of recorded music now available to our fingertips. But I still get excited about each week's new releases, and I'm excited right now to tell you what managed to stick with me out of this year's barrage of records. 

Here's a Spotify playlist with one favorite track from each of these 50 albums. And here's my favorite rap, pop, countryrock, and R&B singles of the year, and my favorite TV shows of the year. 

1. Christine And The Queens - Chris 
One of my guiding principles of music discovery is that I'm more interested in following what actually grabs me than whether it seems like the cool thing to do. That's not to say that Christine And The Queens aren't hip at all, but if I wasn't willing to Shazam a song I heard in Old Navy while buying clothes for my kids, as I did one day when my ears perked up for "Doesn't Matter," I probably would not have heard my album of the year. A lot of people these days are trying to channel the funkiest pop and R&B of the '80s and '90s in their music to varying effect, but I didn't expect that the best set of original songs reflecting those influences in 2018 would come from a French woman. I prefer listening to the English language version of the album, but I like that she made both it and the French version readily available in America, they're both pretty enjoyable. 

2. James Bay - Electric Light
James Bay debuted a few years ago as a British singer-songwriter with a gruff, bluesy voice that belied his age and, eye-rollingly, a signature fedora. On his second album, he ditched the hat and modernized his sound with producer Paul Epworth, and the results were, commercially, a dud both in the UK and in the US -- which is a shame, because I love it. Electric Light pulses with a neon glow as playfully fuzzy, counterintuitive textures wobble around Bay's voice and guitar, but the melodies consistently stick in my head. In 2018, Bay's core constituency remained pretty establishment -- he opened for the Rolling Stones and guested on a Buddy Guy album -- but the minor alt-rock radio success of "Pink Lemonade" hinted toward what might have been if a younger crowd gave strange, surprising songs like "I Found You" and "Sugar Drunk High" a chance.   

3. Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive
The 30th anniversary of Superchunk's formation is a few months away, and the list of bands who've been this good for this long is a short one -- Sonic Youth stopped right around 30 and the Rolling Stones had fallen off more by the '90s. And while Superchunk's last couple albums simply added some middle-aged gravitas to the band's tried and true sound, What A Time To Be Alive is something entirely different, the angriest album from a band who I never expected to be defined in part by righteous and articulate activism. But it makes some sense that a band from North Carolina, where GOP attacks on democracy have been more pointed and sustained than probably anywhere else in the last decade, would be able to summon an aging punk's answer to the Trump era that was sharp and inspiring in a way a lot of other bands tried and failed to deliver this year. 

4. Jacquees - 4275
For the past week, certain corners of the internet have been absolutely insufferable with debates about R&B royalty, spurred by Jacquees boasting that he's the new king of R&B "for this generation." His boast was premature for sure -- his debut album peaked at #35 on the charts when it was released over the summer. But where I would have dismissed Jacquees as an untalented Pleasure P soundalike along with everyone else a few months ago, I have to admit he surprised me with what turned out to be my favorite R&B album of the year. He balances bawdy slow jams with big-hearted autobiographical songs like "All About Us," and the consistently great production makes the most of his voice's limitations. 

5. The 1975 - A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
When you consider that arguably the 2 biggest British bands of the last 20 years, Coldplay and Muse, are suffocatingly defined by their debt to Radiohead, The 1975's decision to favor '80s pop gloss and '00s emo histrionics over the tasteful '90s alt-rock canon is both canny and an act of mercy. Still, it's not like they didn't grow up listening to Radiohead, which comes out more than ever on the first of 2 albums they're releasing in back-to-back years, Kid A/Amnesiac style, in the glitchy "How To Draw / Petrichor" and a "Fitter, Happier" sequel called "The Man Who Married A Robot." But A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is largely a step towards The 1975 creating their own world that is more about what they do with their influences than what those influences are, where Matt Healy's anxious logorrhea finds an ideal soundtrack the lush beds of sound provided by drummer/producer George Daniel, who may quietly be a ?uestlove-level genius behind both a drum set and a drum machine. 

6. Jay Rock - Redemption
Jay Rock was the first Top Dawg Entertainment rapper with a national profile, but for most of the decade since then, I've seen people express more passion for pretty much all of his labelmates, including less commercially visible guys like Ab-Soul and Isaiah Rashad. But I gotta say, at this point, Jay Rock is second only to Kendrick for me, someone who can navigate the dense and artsy beats that have become TDE's signature while summoning more conventional full-throated west coast rap bravado than the other members of Black Hippy. 

7. Cardi B - Invasion Of Privacy
Everyone knows that Cardi B was a stripper before she was a social media star or a superstar rapper, but I don't think they've realized how much burlesque is in her persona, her ability to embrace a glitzy and ditzy image while reminding you at every turn how disarmingly witty and worldly she is. Her ability to project authenticity while owning her superficiality -- "real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs" -- reminds me more of Dolly Parton than any rapper. Invasion Of Privacy is a rare no-skips major label rap album where songs aimed at several different demographics and radio formats all hit hard. The harshest criticism regularly levied at it is that it was assembled by her label, but I think it's worth noting that Cardi's co-writer, Pardison Fontaine, is one of her day one pals from the strip club days, not an industry-approved pen. And together, they've assembled a great, consistently entertaining record with 5 hits and killer deep cuts like "Bickenhead" and "Money Bag" that got more spins than a lot of other rappers' singles did this year. 

8. Meek Mill - Championships
In the past, Meek Mill's album titles have been themed around the duality of his ups and downs. But after Dreams and Nightmares and Wins & Losses, he only put the upside in the title of Championships, the most popular and acclaimed album of his career. He still writes about his hard times vividly on "Trauma" and "Oodles O' Noodles Babies" and "Cold Hearted II," though. I've been a loyal Meek fan as his stock has fallen and risen over and over -- he's the only artist who's been in my year-end top 10 albums 5 times out of the last 8 years -- and I'd be happy if he was still yelling about Rollies over Jahlil Beats productions, but Championships is better for the variety of flows and sounds he's acquired over the years. And "Intro" is kind of a great meta Meek album intro, using "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins as a sample that already comes equipped slow build and cathartic climax of past Meek openers like "Dreams and Nightmares." 

9. The Lemon Twigs - Go To School
Long Island brothers Brian and Michael D'Addario were born in the late '90s but make music that sounds like they think rock peaked in the early '70s. And though their second album features cameos from influences and heroes Todd Rundgren and Big Star's Jody Stephens, most of what's remarkable about Go To School comes directly from the D'Addario brothers recording themselves in their basement, playing nearly every instrument, and dreaming up an absurd rock opera about a monkey going to school, twisting their familiar influences into something distinct and original. 

10. Moneybagg Yo - 2 Heartless
2018 was a big year for a new generation of Memphis rappers (Moneybagg Yo, Blac Youngsta, BlocBoy JB, and Key Glock), and at first I was a little dismayed at how much they sound like the last generation of Memphis rappers (Yo Gotti and Young Dolph) when the city has given us one-of-a-kind MCs like Project Pat and MJG. But Moneybagg Yo has emerged as by far my favorite of the new Memphis guys, someone who's always in the pocket and sneaking clever lines into his verses even as his drawl keeps him sounding relaxed and off-the-cuff. Moneybagg Yo released 3 album-length projects in 2018 that demonstrated the blurry line between mixtapes and albums these days -- all 3 were distributed by Interscope, all 3 were available on iTunes and streaming services, and all 3 had original production. The most recent one, Reset, was announced as his 'album album' with big name features, but February's 2 Heartless was a better collection of songs with a bigger single. 

11. Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere
I often say that country producer Jay Joyce is my current favorite producer of the 'putting microphones in front of instruments and amps' variety, and 2018 was a great year for him -- Eric Church and Brothers Osborne stuck with him for their latest albums, and Joyce also produced debut albums for LANCO, Devin Dawson, and Arkansas singer-guitarist Ashley McBryde. McBryde's got a big soulful voice, but her songwriting is full of little details about small town life, short stories about human nature, snappy little bits of wordplay that sum up big emotions. 

12. SiR - November
I've been following Inglewood R&B singer-songwriter SiR's career closely since his excellent 2015 indie album Seven Sundays. And it was really exciting to see him release his first full-length album for Top Dawg Entertainment this year, full of the kind of jazzy, downbeat production and confessional lyrics that I hope will put him at the forefront of the artsy new school of quiet storm R&B where he deserves to be. 

13. American Pleasure Club - A Whole Fucking Lifetime Of This 
I remember hearing about how talented Sam Ray was from our mutual friend Sean Mercer, and joking around with Ray on Twitter, before I ever started to really dip into his prolific output as Ricky Eat Acid, Teen Suicide, and most recently American Pleasure Club. And a lot of the appeal of A Whole Fucking Lifetime Of This is that it kind of packs together a lot of his different styles into one record, cutting from vulnerable acoustic tracks to full-band rockers to sample-driven soundscapes. I always feel like more artists should aspire to the standard of Prince -- not to simply make albums that sound different from each other, but to make albums that have that kind of variety from song to song. 

14. War On Women - Capture The Flag 
About 7 years ago, Shawna Potter of the amazing underrated Baltimore band Avec told me about her new band that she described as a combination of Bikini Kill and early Metallica. So it seemed so perfect when I heard that Kathleen Hanna herself was a guest on War On Women's second full-length album. I was actually skeptical that War On Women could be as good as Avec before I heard them, since I couldn't imagine swapping out the subtle, moody complexity of Avec for something so much faster and more confrontational. But War On Women's righteous protest songs actually have a lot of what made Potter and Brooks Harlan's previous band so great embedded in their melodies and arrangements. 

15. Tierra Whack - Whack World
2018 felt like the year when the always blurry distinction between full-length albums and EPs broke down entirely. Kanye West forced that conversation by producing 5 records that ran from 21 to 27 minutes and were all proclaimed albums, but the boldest statement came from the heretofore little known Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack, who took Beyonce's "visual album" format and somehow made it more audacious by shrinking it down to 15 songs in 15 minutes. Not since the death of D. Boon has anyone made an album of 60-second songs this good, with an incredible amount of melody and wit compressed into this brief songs. That said, a lot of these tracks feel like snippets of full-length songs that end too abruptly -- if Tierra Whack released a version where each song was 2-3 minutes long, I'd never play this version again. 

16. Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch
Nine Inch Nails waded into the "short album or EP" debate this year by concluding a trilogy of EPs with a 6-song half hour record that was considered an album. Trent Reznor was up front about the fact that the distinction was largely motivated by the fact that Spotify puts new albums right at the top of an artist's page and new EPs way down below the albums, which is kind of funny when you consider that Reznor has been an Apple Music employee for the last few years. But Bad Witch was a satisfying end to the NIN trilogy, with Reznor playing saxophone on record for the first time in his long career and adding an unexpected new texture to band's familiar digital dystopia. 

17. Future - Beast Mode 2
Future is kind of a victim of his own success in that he can essentially release 4 albums of new material in one year, something that he got massive acclaim for in 2015, and people barely bat an eye in 2018. Of course, his latest run was by no means as impressive as the 2015 run, but only the album with Juice WRLD album was a dud, while I think him releasing a bunch of songs on the DJ Esco mixtape and the Super Fly soundtrack allowed that material to fly a little under the radar. And even his one true solo project, Beast Mode 2, was a sequel to his least popular 2015 project (but my personal favorite). Zaytoven's lush, melodic sound is such a refreshing contrast to most of the other producers in Future's stable and I always love what they cook up together. 

18. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
Although the lite disco thump of "High Horse" is the departure that I think gives Golden Hour an edge over 2015's Pageant Material, the album really soars in the melancholy moments that Kacey Musgraves has thrived with since 2013's stone classic Same Trailer Different Park. Chief among those was "Slow Burn," perhaps the most devastatingly perfect opening track any album had this year. 

19. Ella Mai - Ella Mai
It took me a couple weeks to get to listening to Ella Mai's album, and the relative lack of buzz around the album, and the fact that its 2 big singles were so similar they were almost redundant, kind of kept my expectations low. But I was pleasantly surprised that there's a whole range of sounds and tempos here, not just more variations on "Boo'd Up" and "Trip." And while the spoken word interludes come off a little pretentious like she's trying to be both members of Floetry, it's kind of nice to hear her accent since you don't really hear it when she's singing. 

20. YG - Stay Dangerous
DJ Mustard had a pretty great year between Ella Mai's breakthrough and his return to produce the bulk of YG's latest album after they briefly feuded circa Still Brazy. At this point everyone knows what YG does and you either love it or don't, but I think he managed to stretch out and really show how much he has to say and what kind of tracks he can say it over on songs like "Bomptown Finest." 

21. Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
One of my favorite moments in any artist's career is the follow-up to their experimental departure album -- it's when you find out if their new sound is here to stay, if they're got a new new sound, or if they're returning to their early style or mixing together all of the above. Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack reimagined Wye Oak on 2014's Shriek without guitars, with dramatic and often exciting results, and The Louder I Call is the first new set of Wye Oak songs since then. Wasner is playing guitar more again, but she also sounds emboldened by the freedom found on Shriek and her Flock Of Dimes solo project to twist and invert the band's sound further with icy synths, oddly layered vocals, the tumbling notes of her brilliant "Lifer" guitar solo, and Stack's intricate 7/8 groove of "Symmetry." 

22. Madeline Kenney - Perfect Shapes
In addition to the Wye Oak album, Jenn Wasner produced another artist for the first time in 2018, bringing her ear for elegantly layered and unpredictable arrangements to Oakland singer-songwriter Madeline Kenney's second album. As a fan of Wasner who hadn't heard Kenney before, though, of course, it's possible I don't give Kenney and her musicians enough credit for the sound of this record, but in any event it's awesome. 

23. Elvis Costello & The Imposters - Look Now
Many of Elvis Costello's dozens of albums go out on one stylistic limb or another, but Look Now is more of an omnibus of a few different familiar modes, much like 1989's Spike or 2002's When I Was Cruel. He's got a couple new Burt Bacharach co-writes, a couple of the sidemen who've been with him for over 40 years, and a little of the orchestral ambition of Imperial Bedroom

24. Black Thought & Salaam Remi - Streams Of Thought Vol. 2: Traxploitation EP 
Black Thought is probably fine with being underappreciated as an individual -- the one time he recorded a solo album, it was shelved and he went right back to making Roots records. But after a freestyle went viral a year ago, he's taken the opportunity to step into the spotlight more than ever before with a couple of EPs, and the second one finds a great foil for him in Salaam Remi, a veteran producer who's similarly overlooked despite decades of crafting classics for Nas and The Fugees. 

25. Erika Wennerstrom - Sweet Unknown
The Ohio band Heartless Bastard's 2015 album Restless Ones was my favorite to date, and I remember wondering hopefully earlier this year when they would release a follow-up. But it turns out I was looking in the wrong place, because singer Erika Wennestrom instead opted to release her solo debut. And since Sweet Unknown more or less continues the Heartless Bastards tradition of evocative, grandiose roots rock, I'm happy to hear her voice again regardless of what name is on the cover. 

26. Ariana Grande - Sweetener
Putting half of her 4th album in the hands of Pharrell Williams was not one of Ariana Grande's best ideas -- his signature choppy minimalist grooves and her lush harmonies are an odd match, and they only work out something better than tolerable together 2 or 3 times and completely shit the bed on "The Light Is Coming." But the other half of the album, much of it produced by the surer hand of Max Martin and his frequent collaborator Ilya, is some of the best music Grande has released since her debut. 

27. Mila J - January 2018 EP
Mila J isn't nearly as famous as her sister Jhene Aiko, and hasn't had much mainstream exposure since a string of minor hits in 2014-2016. But she's been quietly really prolific in 2018, releasing an EP every month this year, totaling 56 songs (probably over 60 once the December EP is released). I still want to finish a playlist of the best songs from all the EPs, but for now I'll just pick the first of the set for writerly guitar ballads like "Coldest Shoulder in the West" and "4 Pictures Away." 

28. Lori McKenna - The Tree
Lori McKenna continued her run as a successful songwriter this year, penning songs for Carrie Underwood and Lady Gaga. But it seems like she'd just keep out cranking out intimate, personal folk records like her tenth album The Tree whether or not she had a few Grammy nominations under her belt. 

29. The Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations
Three has been the magic number for Nels Cline's two longest-running previous ensembles, the Nels Cline Trio and the Nels Cline Singers, where he was backed by a drummer and bassist. But after intertwining his distinctive playing with another guitarist, Julian Lage, on a couple of duo albums, it seems that Cline was finally ready for a 2 guitar quartet. Television has always been a big influence on Cline, and it feels like he gets to really dig into some Verlaine/Lloyd-style interplay with Lage on Currents, Constellations

30. Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois - Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois
Daniel Lanois is another distinctive guitarist who's played with a dizzying array of collaborators over the years. But Lanois's ghostly, ethereal slide guitar has never been paired with something like the glitchy soundscapes experimental electronic producer Aaron Funk before, and the results are gorgeous and strange.  

31. Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing
This year Willie Nelson turned 85 and seemed as unstoppable as ever, campaigning for Beto O'Rourke with the political single "Vote 'Em Out," and releasing two albums, the Sinatra tribute My Way and the bittersweet collection of originals Last Man Standing. I realize that someday Willie won't be around to add to his already incredible catalog, but I appreciate that for the time being he's still here, contemplating mortality with a sense of humor on "Heaven Is Closed" and "Last Man Standing." 

32. Jukebox The Ghost - Off To The Races
I first heard Philly trio Jukebox The Ghost a few years ago when I wrote some copy for a thing they did with a friend of mine, but I didn't properly fall for their music until this year, when they released their 4th album and scored a minor radio hit in the sublimely catchy "Everybody's Lonely." I always say I love power pop but only really like a small number of the bands that fall under that odd ambigious genre, but Jukebox The Ghost's big hooks and harmonies take me back to old favorites like Jellyfish. 

33. Vince Staples - FM! 
Vince Staples is one of rap's rare masters of the 20-minute stopgap project that feels like a carefully crafted statement and not a quick dump of new tracks, and FM! follows nicely in the tradition of Hell Can Wait and Prima Donna. And for a rapper who grew up on radio but has never seemed too interested in trying to get on the radio, it's entertaining to hear him create his own imaginary station with drops and previews of material from other artists on the interludes that tie FM! together. 

34. Jeremih & Ty Dolla Sign - MihTy
At this point it feels like every rapper has a duo album with one of their peers, and often it feels like two guys are just rapping on the same beats but not actually displaying any creative chemistry or finding any way to complement or contrast their voices or styles. Leave it to Jeremih and Ty Dolla Sign, two R&B singers who have made songs better for countless rappers, to have the collaborative spirit to make one of the best duo projects in recent memory. 

35. Rae Sremmurd - SR3MM
While every solo MC was forming duos, one of the best modern hip hop duos decided to get their Speakerboxxx/The Love Below on. And while it was a little surprising that Slim Jxmmi outshined Swae Lee on the solo discs, I think they're generally better together. 

36. Soul Cannon - Soul Cannon
When I threw a party for my 30th birthday at a club in Baltimore and booked a couple bands to play it, the amazing live hip hop quartet Soul Cannon was one of the acts I picked. But the second album they'd just released around that time, The Mixed Ape, was a studio experiment that sounded little like their full band live sound, and when 7 years passed with no follow-up and rapper Eze Jackson started releasing more solo material, I started to resign myself to the idea that Soul Cannon would never capture the energy of their shows on record again. So I was pleasantly surprised when their self-titled third album appeared a couple months ago, surpassing 2008's Kaboom as their best album. 

37. All The Luck In The World - The Blind Arcade 
I kind of stumbled on Irish trio All The Luck In The World's debut album at random a few years ago, and I liked it enough to check out their follow-up this year. They apparently relocated to Berlin while working on this album, but it's still a charmingly intimate acoustic record with some occasional luxurious string arrangements. 

38. various artists - Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John And Bernie Taupin
I don't think I've ever put a tribute compilation on a year-end list before -- even the best ones tend to have as many weak tracks and poorly chosen artists as good ones. But Restoration has a relatively novel concept, country artists covering Elton John, and executes it brilliantly with a mix of modern country's best (Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves) and legends from Elton's generation (Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton). The companion album of pop/rock artists, Revamp, has a few gems, but it doesn't hold a candle to Restoration

39. JPEGMAFIA - Veteran
I can't say I saw JPEGMAFIA's national success coming, but I'm not surprised that one of Baltimore hip hop's biggest breakout stars in recent memory is one of the DIY scene weirdos with a dark sense of humor and a fractured, unpredictable production aesthetic. Baltimore has quietly been a great training ground for nontraditional MCs to embrace being themselves and thumb their nose at both local and national trends, and although Veteran is very much a unique statement from Peggy, I also hear a whole lineage of dryly funny, disrespectful Baltimore rap kids in this record. 

40. Lloyd - Tru
Lloyd's 5th album Tru finally dropped over two years after the lovely single of the same name, which I think further doomed the commercial fortunes of an independent album from an artist whose fame peaked a decade ago. But he followed up on the mellow, wizened air of "Tru" really well, Lloyd has always seemed like this humble, laid back guy and he really just gets really vulnerable and autobiographical for most of the album while still singing some sleazy jams like "Caramel." 

41. Toni Braxton - Sex & Cigarettes
Babyface only penned a couple tracks on Sex & Cigarettes, but it very much feels like a continuation of Toni and Face's excellent 2014 duet album Love, Marriage & Divorce. And it's one of the short albums this year where the brevity feels like a strength -- in 8 songs, there's acoustic ballads and house beats and plush, glossy R&B reminiscent of Braxton's '90s hits, but each song feels like a crucial pillar of the album that stays within the same emotional space instead of just a bunch of different approaches slapped together in search of a demographic. 

42. Manners Manners - First In Line EP 
I'm friendly with the Baltimore trio Manners Manners and played a show with them in October, and seem to have a lot of the same favorites and influences as singer/guitarist Jack Pinder. But you never know if a band that's good live is gonna nail it on their first studio record, and the J. Robbins-produced 6-song EP they released a few weeks ago is just fantastic, their self-description of "Elvis Costello fronting the Breeders" is apt. 

43. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter V
Like many high profile rap albums of 2018, Tha Carter V is way way too long. But given the wait and Wayne's work ethic, I'm cool with him dumping out 90 minutes of music and letting me find the gems. And as usual, the album feels a little too scattershot to be a classic, but there's some great songs on here that give me hope for the post-Cash Money career Wayne deserves to enjoy.

44. Fall Out Boy - Mania
One of the odd things about music in the streaming era is the idea that some albums now continue to change after you listen to them. A few rap and R&B albums have gotten extra singles added to their tracklist after the initial release or even subtle tweaks in the miss. But the strangest one I experienced this year was when I reviewed the new Fall Out Boy album for Spin, and a few days later the band acknowledged that the album's running order on Spotify (which opened with "Young And Menace") was incorrect and it was eventually changed to the band's preferred sequence (which opened with "Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea"). I like both iterations of the album, but I think the 'real' one is ultimately better, and I think the third album of Fall Out Boy's comeback deserved better than to get overshadowed by their onetime proteges' Panic At The Disco's comeback. 

45. Dead Sara - Temporary Things Taking Up Space EP
Dead Sara released 2 underappreciated albums on an independent label that sounded like world-beating arena rock. So I was happy to hear that they signed to a major label and are taking a swing at a bigger audience with their first Atlantic release, a 6-song EP featuring the optimistic anthem "One Day We'll Make It Big." Temporary Things Taking Up Space has a slightly glossier sound than their previous records, but it works well for them, and Emily Armstrong's voice has this gripping raw nerve quality that she doesn't restrain at all even on the band's slickest songs. 

46. various artists - Black Panther: The Album
Since it's a given at this point that Kendrick Lamar is not the kind of rap superstar who's going to drop an album every year, I'm glad that TDE has found some interesting stopgap projects to keep some Kendrick music coming out in between. Untitled Unmastered was the right thing to do to fill that niche in 2016, but in 2018 it made sense to go bigger, with Kendrick and Sounwave pulling together nearly the entire Top Dawg roster and a few friends from outside the label to soundtrack one of the biggest movies of the year. We've been getting good rap soundtracks since the '90s, but between Black Panther, Super Fly and Creed II, 2018 felt like the year that the momentum of hip hop and blockbusters with black casts really lined up and showed a new way to get cohesive soundtrack albums from one artist or crew. 

47. Lil Baby - Harder Than Ever
I like to joke that Lil Baby sounds like Young Thug trying to rap without exhaling, and there's something bittersweet about Baby having such an amazing rookie year when he's still not really touching his idol (three top 5 albums, more than Thug's had his entire career). But he made all the right moves in 2018, and Harder Than Ever was my favorite of his trio of releases. 

48. Takeoff - The Last Rocket
The Last Rocket still ultimately got commercially outshined by Quavo's solo album, and Offset's solo album will probably continue to overshadow Takeoff. But I feel like people finally started to get it this year that bar for bar Takeoff is the best rapper in Migos, and he got to stretch his legs and be a little more melodic and introspective on his solo debut. 

49. Bishop Briggs - Church Of Scars
Church of Scars arrived so long after Bishop Briggs made her initial impact with "River" and "Wild Horses," and she's already moved on with a new single since the album was released. But despite the slow rollout, I didn't wanna overlook how good the songs on this record were, she's got a great voice. 

50. Eric Church - Desperate Man
Desperate Man is Eric Church's shortest album and also the one that took the longest to make, and sometimes it sounds like he had to stare at a blank page or strum a single chord for a long time until it turned into a song. But the small quiet moments in Eric Church records that seem to come out of him trying that hard to find something to say and how to say it are really my favorite parts of his records.