I’ve been keeping year-end music lists since I was thirteen or fourteen years old. When I look back through those lists, it’s like reading a diary: Memories of albums inspire memories of the contexts in which I experienced those songs.

I remember hearing The Joshua Tree for the first time under headphones as my school bus carried me and my high-school-choir classmates away for a tour. Years later, I would pick up Achtung Baby at a midnight release party in downtown Seattle’s Tower Records, listen to it four times before 5 a.m., and turn in my review by 10 a.m. to the school newspaper.

I remember inviting friends to my dorm room in Seattle Pacific’s Moyer Hall so we could share a first listen to R.E.M.’s Out of Time.

I remember sitting on the bank of the Seine during a European study tour, unwrapping a cassette of Suzanne Vega’s 99.9°F, and feeling swept away into a soundscape I never would have imagined. Days later, I would lie in a hostel bedroom in Dublin and listen to R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People.

I remember picking up Radiohead’s OK Computer on a whim, at Cherry St. Records in downtown Seattle, on a lunch break, having no familiarity with the band, and then realizing, an hour later, that I’d just heard one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

I remember Linford Detweiler, at the Cornerstone Festival, opening a box of preview copies of Over the Rhine’s double album Ohio, handing me the first one out of the box, and saying, “Why don’t you take this for a spin?” I ran to my rental car, pressed “PLAY,” and drove down long empty roads through fields of corn listening and singing and, during the song “Changes Come,” pulling the car over because tears were streaming down my face.

I’m only a few weeks into 2019, and I’ve already heard several brand-new albums that I can’t stop thinking about: records by Pedro the Lion, Sharon Van Etten, Steve Gunn, and (especially) Over the Rhine.

But what about 2018? I’m very, very late in posting a favorites list this year. Why?

Because 2018 had a lot of records that impressed me, but very few that actually moved me or spoke to me the way my favorite records have done. I’m not sure why. Was it an unremarkable year for music? Or was I just so busy in my new teaching career that I didn’t have the time and energy to commit to listening that I usually do? Was the state of the world weighing so heavily on my heart that it was hard to get excited about songs? I honestly don’t know.

But there were records that made hard days better, that I turned up loud in the car, that sometimes gave me medicine for what afflicted me.

I will share 25 recommendations here.

Actually — 27, because two of them which don’t exactly qualify as 2018 New Releases were records that inspired new appreciation for longstanding classics.

I don’t know that any record this year gave me as much joy as Giles Martin’s new mix of The Beatles’ The White Album. I’ve always had a hard time deciding which Beatles record is my favorite, but I’ve tended to favor The White Album over Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both have benefited tremendously from the Martin remixes. I actually think the Sgt. Pepper remix is the more impressive reimagining of a classic, but this release makes me love The White Album more than ever.

Here’s NPR’s Bob Boilen talking with Giles Martin about the production:

I’m also amazed and, frankly, intimidated by the massive package called More Blood, More Tracks, which reveals all kinds of archival recordings, alternate takes, and surprises surrounding the creation of Bob Dylan’s masterful Blood on the Tracks.

Here’s NPR’s Tom Moon on that substantial release.

And here’s a Spotify playlist:

Now, let’s focus on music that was entirely new in 2018.


Double Negative




Cat Power



Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet


This just might be their strongest record since John Henry… 25 years ago. And that’s saying something. Just try and count the records they’ve released since then.

I Like Fun

They Might Be Giants


Transangelic Exodus

Ezra Furman

Here’s a substantial review at AllMusic.com by a friend whose music reviews I admire: Thom Jurek.


Rifles and Rosary Beads

Mary Gauthier


Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett


All the Things I Did and
All the Things I Didn’t Do

The Milk Carton Kids








By the Way, I Forgive You

Brandi Carlile


All These Things

Thomas Dybdahl





I Need to Start a Garden

Haley Heynderickx


Whistle Down the Wind

Joan Baez


Believe the hype. This is a great record, and Dacus has my full attention as a star rising, a lyricist of formidable talents. And that voice.


Lucy Dacus


For an album about meaninglessness, this record sure makes me believe in things.

The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs

Wye Oak


This is the most engaging record since Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain — 25 years ago — from a man who wrote so much of my personal soundtrack during my college years.

Sparkle Hard

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks


They can still make the record I reach for the most over the course of a year. There may not be any revelatory new sounds here, but it’s a fuller, more symphonic sound than anything they’ve tried in a while, and Karen’s voice remains a singular source of grace in the world.

sun on the square

The Innocence Mission


I’ve tuned in to every Marianne Faithfull album, one by one, always with a sense that her best work was still ahead of her. I think I was right. This is my Marianne Faithfull record.

Negative Capability

Marianne Faithfull


Sam returns with another outstanding album full of Eric Gorfain’s string arrangements and Jay Bellerose’s inimitable percussion. It finds her drawing from different sounds from across her career: “American Landfill Kings” reminds me of Cruel Inventions, and “Candles and Stars” is taps into the same well of haunting beauty from which she drew “Reflecting Light.” The latter may have been the song I relied on most this year for consolation and hope. She remains the guiding star in my musical cosmos, my muse, the primary composer of my life’s original soundtrack. I’ll follow her anywhere.

World on Sticks

Sam Phillips


Not exactly a reinvention, and I wasn’t really asking for the Decemberists to get a big flashy makeover, but this record sounds so fantastic, the choruses are so catchy, and the lyrics are so right-on for 2018 that I think this is their best work since The Crane Wife.

I’ll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists


I don’t know how to explain it. The mysterious, imaginative, dreamlike sounds on this record translate unfathomable sadnesses into spellbinding beauty. When I listen, I want this record to go on forever.




I’ve been a fan since Fox Confessor Brings the Flood in 2006. But this is easily my favorite Neko Case record — a tremendous surprise, a monumental work of huge, complex songs that demonstrate extraordinary musicianship. What’s more, it’s the best-produced, best-sounding record she’s ever released. The more I listen, the more discoveries I make, and the more I fall in love with the melodies and sounds.


Neko Case


What can I say? I spent a lot of this year praying those very, very angry psalms.

And when I heard the new IDLES record, I heard a sound and a spirit that I could recognize, a punk band I could rant right alongside, a righteous anger that resonated. But what I discovered with each listen was that this music made me happy. It made me laugh. My burdens felt lighter. In fact, the album title is just about perfect.

Joy as an Act of Resistance