2018 — An Accounting of My Year in Music

eric boam
7 min readDec 30, 2018
Sudan Archives at Empire Garage during SXSW 2018

In 2017, I became aware of some biases in the music I listen to. To start off 2018, I made a deliberate effort to get outside of the somewhat narrow slice music that I listen to. I took a page out of Wesley Morris’ summer and for the first two months of the year I only listened to musicians of color.

I noticed that my media bubble and recommendation algorithms were working against me. Tuned to feed me more of the same old, reliable, indie rock that I’ve listened to for decades, it was hard to break out. I pruned my Twitter feed and recalibrated my eyes to notice different things. I discovered new artists, like Sudan Archives, and I gave more time to artists I’ve known, like Janelle Monae. The effects of these two months changed my approach to discovering new music. The reward was tons of great new music and new artists to follow as the years go on.

Without further delay, here’s the music that spoke to me in 2018.

Runners Up

The albums and EPs below were great but didn’t make the cut because I have strict and arbitrary criteria for my list:

  1. Must be released in the calendar year (2018 for this list)
  2. Must be a full length album, not an EP or a single
  3. Must get lucky when I make my list

Sudan Archives EP and Sink EP by Sudan Archives

abysskiss by Adrienne Lenkner

Big Red Machine by Big Red Machine

Heaven’s Only Wishful EP by MorMor

boygenius EP by Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus

Room 25 by Noname

Hell-On by Neko Case

WARM by Jeff Tweedy

Double Negative by Low

7 by Beach House

I Love You Like A Brother by Alex Lahey

Everything Is Recorded by Richard Russell and others

Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along

Golden Week by Secret Retreat

Damned Devotion by Joan As Police Woman

Top Ten Albums

These are the ten most favorite/significant/notable/representative albums of 2018 and my personal stories with each one.

1. Negro Swan by Blood Orange

I’ve circled around in Dev Hynes’ various projects over the years. Regretfully, I never gave them as much attention as they deserved. When this record came out, I made a point to give it the time it deserved. It makes the top of the list because it’s the most complete feeling album. I can listen to it front to back, back to front, or on shuffle, and the songs still fit together so well. This album has one of my favorite guitar riffs of the year (Charcoal Baby) and one of my favorite behind the music stories in a long time (Hope). Songs: Saint, Hope, Charcoal Baby, Orlando

2. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae

One of the best episodes of one of my favorite podcasts, Switched on Pop, dives deep into Janelle Monae and Dirty Computer. The hosts, along with special guest Lizzo, pass the torch from Prince to Monae. Their conversation gave me a new look at this album and vaulted it into top ten status. Songs: Make Me Feel, I Like That, Pynk, Crazy Classic Life

3. Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers

Young Fathers have remained on my radar despite a lack of media exposure, live shows, or friends’ recommendations. They have one of the most unique sounds of any band out there — gritty synths, driving beats, melodic vocals, poignant lyrics. They put out my favorite record of 2015 and I loved their previous album.With Cocoa Sugar, they have done the rare feat of making three great records in a row. Songs: Tremolo, Cocoa Sugar, In My View, Picking You, Border Girl

4. Be the Cowboy by Mitski

I didn’t like this album when I first heard it. The lead track, Geyser, is such a big, beautiful song that is was hard for the rest of the album to not feel like it dropped off. I couldn’t connect though I wanted to. But I kept getting nudges to come back to and finally found a way in. Some of the songs are big, some are quirky, some are adventurous. Tucked inside all the sound is a core that is as resonant as Bury Me At Makeout Creek, the album when I first discovered Mitski. Songs: Geyser, Lonesome Love, Nobody, Me and My Husband, Old Friend

5. Kiss Yr Frenemies by illuminati hotties

If the band name and album title doesn’t sell you as hard as it sold me at first look, then the music will. Each song is an adventure, completely unafraid to try any and everything. Big drums, kooky synths, some of the best echoey guitar of the year, and all kinds of production tricks. That doesn’t mean that the songs don’t stand up on their own. Declutter is a perfect example of that. It’s her voice, a piano, and eventually a few found sounds like glasses clinking and floors creaking. It’s haunting, intimate, and captures the weight of unloading excess things. Songs: Paying Off the Happiness, The Rules, Pressed 2 Death, Declutter

6. Black Panther soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar and others

I heard this record before I seeing the movie. I loved it without the cultural phenomenon of the file. I immediately thought it was the best original soundtrack since Prince did Batman in 1989. While the music isn’t intertwined with the movie, it does bring that world to life. The synth and drums on Pray For Me and the drum and bass on Opps take me right to Wakanda, even if I had never seen it before in the film. It’s not just a great soundtrack. It’s a great album. Songs: All The Stars, Opps, King’s Dead, Pray For Me, The Ways

7. DAYTONA by Pusha T

I believe that hip hop’s devotion to innovation it was continues to keep it at the center of popular culture. Many of the artists pushing the envelope, like Pusha T collaborator Kanye West, think about making music as creating ingredients and then assembling them. DAYTONA is one of the purest examples of that to me and also has some of the best ingredients. The guitar on If You Know You Know, the horns on The Games We Play, and the piano on Hard Piano being examples of that. Songs: If You Know You Know, Hard Piano, The Games We Play

8. Historian by Lucy Dacus

Before noon on March 14th, I took off from work to trek across downtown Austin to prepare for my SXSW panel. I cut down to 2nd Street and crossed Shoal Creek on the new Library Bridge. I made my way past two construction sites, a french bakery, and some pay-by-the-minute scooters. I stood at the corner of Guadalupe and 2nd, waiting to cross the street when I heard a female voice singing. It was coming out of the second floor of Lamberts Barbecue. I took out my headphones to listen, because it was an amazing voice. I listened to see if I could place it, certain I would be able to recognize a voice that amazing. As I neared the opposite side of the street, I stopped and turned around. I still had no idea who it was, but I wasn’t going to miss the set she was warming up to perform. I got in line, waiting for the doors to open, and pulled out my phone to figure out who was playing Lamberts that day. I found the lineup and sure enough, at noon Lucy Dacus was schedule to play. I stood a few feet from the stage while she and her band played songs from Historian for the second time ever. Songs: Night Shift, Pillar of Truth, The Shell

9. The Tree of Forgiveness by John Prine

This isn’t the best John Prine album. I doubt any of the songs on this album are considered among his best. But 47 years into his career, he’s still cranking out songs with the best of them. Here’s the second verse from the 3rd best song on the record:

Poor ol’ planet Pluto now
He never stood a chance no how
When he got uninvited to
The interplanetary dance
Once a mighty planet there
Now just an ordinary star
Hangin’ out in Hollywood
In some ol’ funky sushi bar

Songs: Knockin’ On Your Screen Door, Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone), When I Get To Heaven, Lonesome Friends of Science

10. Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

My kids love music. I assume most kids do. Kids with access to a Spotify account likely have a playlist chock full of not-so-good music, like mine do. They have about 3–5 songs on heavy rotation at any given time. A ton of soundtracks including Cars, Planes, Trolls, and The Peanuts Movie. Heavy on the pop charts as well with some Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Lately, they’ve been singlehandedly responsible for Imagine Dragons’ dominance on the rock charts. I try my best to sprinkle in anything more high brow to try and elevate their tastes. A few things have taken but I’ve been unable to change their taste wholesale. This year, one of my daughter’s friends from school went to a Kacey Musgraves show and told her all about it. I flamed that fire and Golden Hour has now found its way into the heavy rotation. Its saccharine and sometimes predictable. But her lyrics are smart, the music is great, and we’re a little more cultured now because of it. Songs: High Horse, Space Cowboy, Butterflies

Catch up on my top ten lists from previous years here: 2016, 2017. Additionally, my data + music work is compiled here: www.ericboam.com.