I’ve never understood why year end lists are made before the end of the year, I need every last day to soak in music and hear as much as I possibly can to make my top 10. 2018 saw my ears finding more new music than ever before, reviewing at least one new album every week of the year and listening to way more than that. It was also a good year for music, looking back, 2018 was stronger than 2017 overall. Enough rambling, here is the list as always; starting with #1 instead of #10 like most lists.
1. The Matchsellers – Bluegrastronauts
The Matchsellers went interstellar and created an out-of-nowhere album of the year with a perfect mix of humor and gloom. The outrageous concept album holds together telling a vague story of unhappy endings and perfect moments. The anthemic “Pigeon and a Dove” is easily one of the best songs of the year and in a perfect world would have been a mega hit with its huge hooks and clever wit. There’s sincerity here(“Dancing In The Kitchen”) right beside downright goofiness(“Shannon Lives In Arkansas”) and it all simply works.
Key Track: “Pigeon and a Dove”
2. Marie/Lepanto – Tenkiller
The all-star team of Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster and Will Johnson in retrospect makes so much sense that it is hard to see how this didn’t happen. Their voices and songwriting are completely complimentary of one-another. From the rocking “Inverness” to the drawn out “Tenkiller” this album holds together really well and has just proven stronger with repeated listens.
Key Track: “Features/Fights”
3. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
With her 2018 release “Tell Me How You Really Feel” Courtney Barnett cemented her place in rock lore. While her lack of commercial appeal may not make her hugely popular like she might have been if she were born in a different time, she is here to stay. Her output so far indicates she will continue to put out great music for the foreseeable future, let’s hope that indication is true. This slacker rock masterpiece treads on a lot of previously covered ground for her but overall this is likely her best group of songs yet.
Key Track: “Need A Little Time”
4. Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks: Bootleg Series Vol. 14
It’s almost unfair to put any chapter of Dylan’s Bootleg Series in my list but damn it are they good. If this wasn’t previously released songs it would’ve been not only #1 on this list but I would’ve just given it the other 9 spots too. These versions are more personal and intimate than the original 70s versions most people know. It makes them feel closer to the listener because of this. On “Idiot Wind” you can hear the anguish at times and let’s face it, there is nothing better than a brutally honest song and it’s not a common thing with Dylan so cherish this, it’s phenomenal.
Key Track: “Idiot Wind”
5. Tyler Childers – Live on Red Barn Radio I & II
Tyler Childers is on the cutting edge of real country music or outlaw country or red dirt or whatever you want to call it. No matter how you view it, it is brilliant songwriting and this recording from a few years ago but released in 2018 is a stripped down and authentic version of Childers(far better than his latest studio album) and you can listen to him turn and twist words together like on the personal “Rock Salt and Nails” and the powerful “Deadman’s Curve” and be reminded of why Jason Isbell is so revered at this point in his career.
Key Track: “Rock Salt and Nails”
6. Colter Wall – Songs of the Plains
You might not think about Canada when you think of country music but Wall’s tales from north of the border are simply entrancing. The songs redefine what real country music is. His pleasing baritone soothes and taunts at the same time as he whittles his stories in such a way you just can’t ignore them. This album is so strangely unique that you simply can’t help but be interested in it.
Key Track: “John Beyers (Camaro Song)”
7. Ike Reilly – Crooked Love
Ike Reilly oozes swagger. On his latest album he delves into the blues and creates an upbeat collection of his typically finely written songs fitting for both air guitar and dancing. The political “Boltcutter Again” makes a statement and “Missile Site” is an old school Reilly hip-hop inspired romp about one of those sterling nights. This album just further emphasizes Reilly’s status as one of the most underrated songwriters alive today. This album deserved a far larger audience.
Key Track: “Clean Blood Blues”
8. Say Hi – Caterpillar Centipede
Maybe the best news of 2018 was Say Hi veering away from their electronic direction and putting out an album inspired by 70s rock guitar riffs. Songs like “Green With Envy” still share the great songwriting and sentiment the band has always had and on “Every Gauge is on Empty” and “I Just Wanna Go Home” they flat-out rock-out. This is possibly the best power pop that was released this year.
Key Track: “Green With Envy”
9. Under The Big Oak Tree – The Ark
Midwest darlings Under The Big Oak Tree use their superior musicianship to put together a delicate mix of light and dark to show the duality of the world. There are happy moments like on the playful “O Marry Me Not” and there are more concerning times represented like on “Eleanor.” The final song “The Ark” works as a microcosm of the record and embracing both ends of the spectrum.
Key Track: “O Marry Me Not”
10. Melanie Brulée – Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind
More Canadian country in a very different manner. Brulee exercises traditional country but also delves into the guilty pleasures of pop like on the power pop gem “I’ll Get Over You.” There are porcelain moments on this group of songs like with the 90s country nod “Whiskey & Whine” and a little bit of raunch country on “Bust It Up & Fix It.” The great mix of the spectrum of country here makes this one of the more surprising albums of the year.
Key Track: “I’ll Get Over You”
Every Year a few albums just barely miss the cut. This year those albums for Vocals On Top were Lucero – Among The Ghosts, The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl, Middle Western – When Your Demons Are Underground, You’ve Got To Dig Them Up, Smoking Popes – Into The Agony, Bottle Rockets – Bit Logic, Murder By Death – The Other Shore, The Center State – Wilderness and Scruffy & The Janitors – Modeling Is Hard.
Here are my past lists:
My list from 2010, headed up by Jason Collett’s Rat-A-Tat-Tat
My list from 2011, headed up by Tom Waits’ Bad As Me
The 2012 list belonged to The Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits
The 2013 the top of the mountain belonged to Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
The 2014 list belonged to Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
The 2015 list was spearheaded by Courtney Barnett’s – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit.
2016 was then ruled by Wilco and their brilliant Schmilco album
In 2017 Craig Finn‘s brilliant songwriting propelled him to the top of the list with “We All Want The Same Things.”
Thank you – Clint at VocalsOnTop (vocalsontop at gmail.com)