AF 2018 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums and Singles of the Year

Here we are again! As the new year approaches, it’s time to look back and take stock of the albums and singles that defined this moment in music history. 2018 was an eclectic year, to say the least, and there are a lot of new names on the list: Tirzah, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, King Princess, and Kali Uchis all had phenomenal debuts this year, not to mention the inimitable Cardi B, who made good on the promise of last year’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” with Invasion of Privacy in April. There were established artists who still managed to surprise us, whether in the form of unearthed Prince demos, The Arctic Monkeys’ loungey sci-fi concept album, Tim Hecker introducing us to ancient Japanese court music, Dev Hynes making his most personal Blood Orange record yet, or Lil Wayne finally dropping Tha Carter V. And then there are those artists who fall somewhere in between, their ascendant careers a thrill to watch as 2018 saw them finally hit their stride. US Girls. Yves Tumor. serpentwithfeet. And perhaps most spectacularly, Mitski and Janelle Monáe.

As each of our writers (and editors, too) created their own mini-lists, those were two names that kept cropping up, and there’s no doubt you’ve seen them on just about every year-end list on the interwebs. If there’s any chance you haven’t heard Be The Cowboy or Dirty Computer, by all means, fire up that Spotify Premium post haste. But the recommendations here are as diverse as our writers themselves, so we hope you’ll take time to explore some of the lesser-known, hardly hyped artists we’ve highlighted, too – and keep your eyes peeled for more year-end coverage as we cruise in to 2019.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)

    Top 10 Albums:
    1) boygenuis – boygenius
    2) Soccer Mommy – Clean
    3) Nenah Cherry – Broken Politics
    4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
    5) serpentwithfeet – soil
    6) CupcakKE – Ephorize
    7) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    8) Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
    9) Snail Mail – Lush
    10) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Let’s Eat Grandma – “Hot Pink”
    2) Jon Hopkins – “Emerald Rush”
    3) The Internet – “Look What You Started”
    4) Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin – “I Like It”
    5) boygenius – “Bite The Hand”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)

    Top 10 Albums:
    1) Low – Double Negative
    2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
    3) Madeline Kenney – Perfect Shapes 
    4) Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands of Love
    5) DJ Koze – Knock Knock
    6) Caroline Rose – Loner
    7) Tim Hecker – Konoyo
    8) Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
    9) Frigs – Basic Behaviour
    10) bedbug – i’ll count to heaven in years without seasons
    Top 10 Singles:
    1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
    2) Loma – “Black Willow”
    3) The Breeders – “All Nerve”
    4) SOPHIE – “Is It Cold In The Water?”
    5) Jonathan Wilson – “Loving You”
    6) Empath – “The Eye”
    7) Sibile Attar – “Paloma”
    8) Jono Ma & Dreems – “Can’t Stop My Dreaming (Of You)”
    9) Shopping – “Discover”
    10) Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – “Dunce”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Social Media)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Miserable – Lover Boy/Dog Days
    2) Snail Mail – Lush
    3) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
    4) Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
    5) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Nothing – “Blue Line Baby”
    2) Hinds – “The Club”
    3) Mitski – “Nobody”

  • Lauren Zambri (Events)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Amen Dunes – Freedom
    2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
    3) Beach House – 7
    4) Iceage – Beyondless
    5) Tirzah – Devotion
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Jenny Hval – “Spells”
    2) US Girls – “Velvet 4 Sale”
    3) Yves Tumor – “Licking An Orchid”
    4) Amen Dunes – “Believe”
    5) Low – “Always Trying to Work it Out”


  • Ashley Prillaman (Premieres, AudioMama)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Alice Ivy – I’m Dreaming
    2) Sudan Archives – Sink
    3) Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
    4) Earth Girl Helen Brown – Venus
    5) Rüfüs Du Sol – Solace
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Rhye – “Taste”
    2) Alice Ivy – “Chasing Stars”
    3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”

  • Tarra Thiessen (Check the Spreadsheet)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) DRINKS – Hippo Lite
    2) Shannon & the Clams – Onion
    3) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction
    4) Prince – Piano & a Microphone 1983 
    5) Sloppy Jane – Willow
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Public Practice – “Fate/Glory”
    2) The Nude Party – “Chevrolet Van”
    3) Big Bliss – “Surface”

  • Natalie Kirch (Pet Politics)

    Top 10 Releases Out of the Brooklyn DIY Scene (in Chronological Order):
    1) THICK — Would You Rather? (Self-Released)
    2) BODEGA — Endless Scroll (What’s Your Rupture?)
    3) Baked — II (Exploding In Sound)
    4) Pecas — After Dark (Broken Circles)
    5) Big Bliss – At Middle Distance (Exit Stencil Recordings)
    6) Kevin Hairs — Freak In The Streets (GP Stripes)
    7) PILL – Soft Hell (Mexican Summer)
    8) Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend (Exploding In Sound)
    9) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction (Little Dickman Records/ Rich Moms)
    10) Janet LaBelle – I Only See You (Loantaka Records)

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Kali Uchis – Isolation
    2) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    3) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
    5) Noname – Room 25
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Ama Lou – “Tried Up”
    2) Britney Stoney – “OD”
    3) Janelle Monáe – “PYNK”

  • Luci Turner (Playing Atlanta)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) The Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
    2) The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
    3) Charles Bradley – Black Velvet
    4) Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
    5) Jack White – Boarding House Reach
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) The Raconteurs – “Now That You’re Gone”
    2) Mac Miller – “2009”
    3) Dead Naked Hippies – “Rare”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    2) Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
    3) J. Cole – KOD
    4) Preme – Light of Day
    5) Jazz Cartier – Fleurever
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Lil Wayne feat. Reginae Carter – “Famous”
    2) Cardi B – “Thru Your Phone”
    3) J. Cole – “Brackets”

  • Desdemona Dallas

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Noname – Room 25
    2) Flatbush Zombies – Vacation In Hell
    3) Mountain Man – Magic Ship
    4) Lucy Dacus – Historian
    5) Nao – Saturn
    Top 3 Singles:
    1)  Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
    2) Twin Shadow – “Saturdays”
    3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”

  • Erin Rose O’Brien

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Mitski — Be The Cowboy
    2) Antarctigo Vespucci — Love in the Time of E-mail
    3) Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy
    4) Soccer Mommy — Clean
    5) Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Bad Moves — “Cool Generator”
    2) The Beths — “Future Me Hates Me”
    3) Miya Folick — “Stop Talking”

  • Ysabella Monton

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
    2) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
    3) Brockhampton – Iridescence
    4) Soccer Mommy – Clean
    5) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) King Princess – “1950”
    2) Childish Gambino – “This is America”
    3) Pusha T – “If You Know You Know”

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Twin Shadow “Saturdays” & More

When Twin Shadow released his album Caer in April of this year, it brought a sense of relief to fans – not only did it signify recovery from his bands’ catastrophic tour bus crash, the music felt like a return to form. His first two records, 2010 debut Forget and its 2012 follow-up Confess, gained him indie acclaim thanks to their epic ’80s synth pop sound, but 2015’s Eclipse saw him all but abandon his hallmark style in favor of a more pop-friendly sound. Unfortunately, Eclipse didn’t make a good, or lasting, impression on critics or fans, while the bus accident nearly ended his career in the process of promoting it.

Caer sees Twin Shadow – real name George Lewis, Jr. – return to the nostalgic sound that made his music so immediately accessible, without sacrificing his serious pop star ambitions. There’s no one track on the album that emphasizes this more than feel-good jam “Saturdays;” it even features pop rock sister act HAIM. The video for the track doubles down on the nostalgia, as Lewis digs into his childhood memories of wiling away the weekends in front of a fuzzy television set. The video follows a young George Lewis, Jr. look-alike enthralled by what can only be a direct throwback to Nickelodeon’s “You Can’t Do That on Televison” and on into the teenage intrigue scrambled late-night signals, offering an enthralling journey through the visuals that shaped Twin Shadow.

DeJ Loaf is back, and showing fans her softer side. When she broke onto the scene with “Try Me” and followed it up one year later with “Back Up,” her sound was that of a woman trying to prove herself in the male dominated hip-hop scene. But “Liberated” represents the newfound freedom she’s found in defying convention and refusing to play by someone else’s rules. It opens with a potent depiction of the Black Lives Matter movement, eventually encompassing a number of grassroots protests that have taken hold in these challenging political times. The message is clear – the only way to get “Liberated” is to do it for oneself.

With a provocatively titled new track and sensual clip to match, Anna Calvi announces her return to rock, and perhaps her intent to destroy gender roles once and for all. She’ll release Hunter, her third full-length record – the follow-up to 2013’s critically lauded One Breath – on August 31st via Domino.

Trippy Brooklyn music collective Pendulum People continues to invite audiences into their world of spectacle and illusion. This latest video for their song “Paradise” pulls imagery from their live shows, and highlights the elaborate costuming and dance the crew’s fans have come to expect.

We couldn’t be more excited about the return of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s experimental rock project Low. This week they teased the September 14 release of Double Negative with a triptych of videos for “Quorum,” “Dancing and Blood” and “Fly.” The new songs and their accompanying clips find beauty in the dark, dramatic, and unsettling.


NEWS ROUNDUP: Sade, The BRITs & More

  • The Return of Sade!

    It’s been eight years since Sade released Soldier of Love, but on Tuesday the sultry singer’s return to music was revealed in a very 2018 way – via Twitter! Movie director Ava DuVernay announced that the British-Nigerian musician and her eponymous band wrote a song for her upcoming movie, A Wrinkle In Time. The track, “Flower of the Universe,” will be included on the official soundtrack, along with songs from DJ Khaled, Demi Lovato, Sia and Kehlani. Composer Ramin Djawadi will write the original score for the film.


    Although Sade’s fans are always pining for her return, the singer gives good reason to back up the long breaks that she takes between albums. She previously explained to The Guardian’s Adrienne Gibbs, “If I were forever in the music machine or on the road, doing TV and in that sort of commercial world, I don’t believe I would be able to step back and write the songs that I did.”

    View the trailer for A Wrinkle In Time below. The film comes out in the United States on March 9th.

  • The 2018 BRIT Awards 

    On Wednesday, The BRIT Awards schooled The Grammys when it came to gender representation, diversity, and political relevance. Dua Lipa took home the award for best British breakthrough act and female solo artist and Lorde won the trophy for international female solo artist while Kendrick Lamar won in the male counterpart to the category. Gorillaz took the title for Best British Group; during their acceptance speech, Damon Albarn took a stand against Brexit. Stormzy came out on top, winning the award for best male solo artist as well as album of the year for Gang Signs & Prayer. The Grime MC closed out the show with an intense performance (rain literally fell on his head the whole time) of “Blinded By Your Grace.” For the BRITs, he added a freestyle verse criticizing Prime Minister Theresa May for her handling of the Grenfell Tower Fire, a massive fire that consumed a public housing project last June leaving seventy-one people dead. Stormzy rapped:

    “Yo, Theresa May, where’s that money for Grenfell? What, you thought we just forgot about Grenfell? You criminals, and you got the cheek to call us savages. You should do some jail time, you should pay some damages, we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.”

    American performers, take note.

  • New Claims of Harassment Against Charlie Walk Surface

    Rolling Stone investigation into the misbehavior of former Republic Records head Charlie Walk has uncovered new accusations. This adds to claims made earlier this year by record executive Tristan Coopersmith and three anonymous women, which resulted in his removal from Fox’s music competition show The Four, where he was a judge, as well as his dismissal from the label, whose roster includes The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Lorde, Florence + the Machine, Phantogram, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Black Sabbath, and James Blake among others.

  • Other Highlights

    In an update to last week’s stories, artist Lina Iris Viktor is going to court with SZA and Kendrick Lamar over imagery used in their “All The Stars” video; she is suing for copyright violation. Quincy Jones has issued a public apology for calling the Beatles “the worst musicians in the world” as well as some other controversial comments he made earlier this month.

    Producer Boyd Jarvis, a house music pioneer, passed away this week at the age of 59 following a battle with cancer. His legendary career included projects with Madonna, Prince, and Herbie Hancock.  Black Moth Super Rainbow return with their first new material in four years. “Mr No One” will appear on their upcoming album, Panic Blooms, out May 4th; the band comes to Music Hall of Williamsburg on June 2nd. Twin Shadow debuted two tracks this week. His next album is due April 27th. Janelle Monáe also did a dual release – on Thursday she premiered the videos for new tracks “Django Jane” and “Make Me Feel.” Car Seat Headrest gave us the unexpected this week with a cover of Smash Mouth’s “Fallen Horses.” Drake’s newest video is going to make it a lot harder to diss the Canadian rapper; in his new clip for “God’s Plan” he does good deeds in Miami to the tune of almost one million dollars. Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor also debuted a new video this week. “Beautiful Thing” is the title track off of his upcoming LP, out April 1. Bon Iver manager Kyle Frenette is aiming for political office, hoping to unseat Republican Sean Duffy in a bid to win a House seat representing Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District. The lineup for FORM Arcosanti is out and will bring Beach House, serpentwithfeet, Blood Orange, Chance The Rapper, Courtney Barnett, Daniel Caesar, Fleet Foxes and many more to the Arizona desert from May 11th to 13th. Last but certainly not least, Young Thug would now liked to be called “SEX.”

SHOW REVIEW: Twin Shadow

It was not without drama that I came into a ticket to Twin Shadow’s second of two sold-out NYC performances.  I’d planned to skip both sets since tickets were $22 and one of them was at Webster Hall, which I kind of hate.  But a friend of mine who’d gotten tickets in advance had just turned thirty, thrown a temper tantrum, and bailed, so I found myself at Music Hall of Williamsburg.  I’d seen Twin Shadow play a CMJ show at Le Bain in October 2011, with the twinkling ribbon of the West Side Highway unspooling across giant glass windows behind the band.  I’d ruined a suede skirt by spilling wax on it in attempt to light a joint in the bathroom; I’d also embarrassed myself during the dance party afterward when I toppled sideways in uneven heels at the very moment I’d finally caught the eye of the tall, bearded dreamboat I’d been spying all evening.  As it turns out, he had a girlfriend anyway.

But I’ve come a long way in the last year, and so has George Lewis Jr., the man behind Twin Shadow.   He has released two albums to tons of critical acclaim (including Pitchfork’s coveted Best New Music for this year’s Confess on 4AD), survived a motorcycle accident to have an epiphany that majorly influenced the songwriting and recording of his sophomore album, and headlined a two month tour across the United States and Canada.  The MHoW show was the second-to-last stop on that tour, and the fact that Lewis is a bit fatigued from it all was likely a factor in his somewhat bitter between-song banter.

Twin Shadow’s songs have been compared to just about every pop band from the eighties, and it isn’t hard to hear why.  2010’s stellar Forget, produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, was all airy synths, anthemic choruses, bouncy bass, and shimmering guitar riffs.  These parallels also grew out of Lewis’ personal style, in which leather jacket and pompadour were de rigueur.  With lyrics hopelessly meant for chanting (namely that moment in smash single “Slow” when Lewis croons “I don’t wanna believe / or be / in love”) it was pretty inevitable that Twin Shadow would blow up, and when Confess was released it was apparent that he’d stayed on that same trajectory and managed to amp up the nostalgia factor even further.

Honestly, Confess is almost too over-the-top for me.  In certain moments, like personal favorite “Beg For The Night”, it takes the form of giggle-inducing orchestra hits which are somehow still endearing.  But on album opener “Golden Light”, the backup vocals sound so much like the closing theme from Lost Boys that I can’t even see past it to enjoy the rest of the song, which is unfortunate since without that, it would actually be really lovely.  Slowly but surely, however, Confess has grown on me; it’s something in the transition of Lewis’ low, sultry moans into easy falsettos, the urgency and desperation on songs like lead single “Five Seconds”, the heartbroken but detached callousness of pretty much every lyric Lewis has ever penned.

That cockiness is something that Lewis may as well have trademarked at this point.  While his swagger is not unwarranted, it certainly permeates every aspect of his persona, from song to image to stage banter.  I had always assumed that it was a bit put on, but last night’s show may have convinced me otherwise once and for all.  When I saw him less than a year ago, he didn’t say much and mostly kept his eyes trained on the floor while he hunched over his guitar.  Friday’s performance was an entirely different thing – he wore his mohawk slicked back, jumped around on stage with his guitar swinging, and belted out his most raw lines with fierce bellicosity.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Twin Shadow, image courtesy of BrooklynVegan

It started in a low-key manner, with a slow, stripped-down solo performance of “The One”.  A guitarist, keyboard player and drummer joined him on stage and they moved through a setlist featuring the four best tracks from Forget and all but three cuts from Confess.  While “Slow” was incredibly disappointing (he sang choruses out of turn, feedback screeched), “Castles In The Snow” had to be the show’s highlight; the live version was huskier and grinding in all the right ways, with basslines blaring and buzzing.  But even in the more rote performances, something intense was happening, at least to me, most notably during his performance of “Run My Heart”.  So much of Confess is seemingly infused with a summery mood; it was birthed in Los Angeles, where Lewis fled to escape brutal Brooklyn winters when he was writing and recording the album.  But its darker power comes from what happens when the sunshine fades, from that realization that summer is ending and that with that death, romanticism is doomed.  When Lewis sang “This isn’t love / I’m just a boy / you’re just a girl” it acted as a grim reminder to that harsh reality.

Between songs, Lewis rewarded Brooklyn with some backhanded compliments, then promised to move back and abandon his 3,000 square foot loft in Silver Lake (and its jacuzzi) if the crowd screamed loud enough for him.  So not only is he actually cocky, he also doesn’t seem to realize how a bragging about his success might sound to a bunch of folks who paid slightly inflated ticket prices just to dance at his feet.  He made this trespass up slightly by unleashing a bunch of gold and black balloons on the audience, but the kicker was closing out the show with a cover of “Under Pressure” dedicated to openers Niki & the Dove (who I’d missed).  The cover was rather epic and he proved his chops in performing it shockingly well, ensuring that it will be all anyone really remembers about this show.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][jwplayer config=”AF01 YT” mediaid=”1222″]

All in all, Twin Shadow’s live shows are a tad sloppy compared side-by-side to the obsessively glossy production on his records, but Lewis, let’s remember, is relatively new at this.  He has toured extensively in the last few years, and if nothing else has come out of it, he’s certainly perfected his rock’n’roll idol swag.  Even if this moment doesn’t last much longer than it has, his penchant for making ultra-nostalgic records will ensure his place in the collective consciousness of everyone who came close enough to touch it.  And he’ll be sneering back at us, telling us all how hollow it really is with tears in his eyes.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]