In 2018, I listened to over 1,700 different musicians (and +10k unique songs) on Spotify. My last post broke down the artists that made up my top 50-25.
Here’s the rest of what I listened to the most in 2018:
24. The Roots
There’s probably nothing I could say about The Roots that I (or a bunch of other people) haven’t already said. BUT – this year I saw Black Thought’s unbelievable TEN MINUTE LONG freestyle on YouTube, and it was like I was hearing someone invent rap all over again for the first time – HE’S TOO GOOD. Watch it.
23. Thelonius Monk
I’m certain there are enough Monk recordings out there for real jazz students to make a career out of knowing it all, but my listening has been comprised of just two albums: “Alone in Paris” and “Piano Solos.” The material is similar – both include “Round Midnight,” “Reflections,” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – but they’re timeless.
22. Kaki King
I’ve been a fan of Kaki since I first saw the video for “Playing with Pink Noise” almost 15 years ago, but I think I listened more in 2018 than ever before. I also have no reservations bringing up Hendrix or Jimmy Page as comparisons when talking about how good the guitar work on 2012’s “Glow” is.
Almost 20 years after I first heard “My Name is Jonas,” I finally saw Weezer perform in concert this year. Totally worth the wait. I haven’t heard anything from their latest records, but that didn’t matter – Rivers Cuomo is a true entertainer and he knew the crowd wanted old hits, so that’s what he gave them.
My first exposure to Saib came on the “Chillhop Essentials Winter 2017” sampler, and one thing led to another, now I’m listening to “Dreamland” at least once a week.
19. Kacey Musgraves
You don’t have to read very far into this list to notice that “Country” music isn’t really on my radar – but Ms. Musgraves stripped away some of my pretensions in that regard. Her song “Slow Burn” was one of my favorites of the year.
How do I still listen to 311 this much? I haven’t cared about (and barely listened to) anything they’ve released since 2001. But that’s what’s so special about recorded music, I guess. It stays recorded.
Douglas Appling, aka Emancipator, was classically trained as a violinist, and the residue drips through in his richly textured electronic tracks. I’m still listening to 2010’s “Safe in the Steep Cliffs” and the 2013 release “Dusk to Dawn,” so maybe it’s time I catch up with the four releases he’s dropped since then.
16. Zero 7
My interest in down-tempo kings Zero 7 began with the 2001 track “In the Waiting Line,” which I still listen to probably every day, and their remix of Radiohead’s “Climbing up the Walls.” Sia’s vocals graced their early work before she went on to her successful solo career, and is also featured on 2010’s “Record,” which was my main Zero7 spin this year.
Last year I wrote that Tycho’s music “sounds like a wordless self-help book.” I’ll stand by that. This year I picked up the “Awake Remixes” release on vinyl, which probably would have placed Tycho higher up on the list if we were counting the number of times I dropped the needle on it.
Listening to Alvvays is like dipping my toe into the pop-punk that I loved in high school without also having to mosh or get mad about anything. Their distorted, catchy songs with Molly Rankin’s ice-cream sweet lyrics sound like sunny days and first dates. If I had to make a prediction for how this post will look next year, I could easily see them falling up into the top 3.
Ten years ago, one of my college classmates played the Beirut “Blogotheque” video in between some student presentations. From then on, his troubadour sound has given me the Euro-indie-waltz vibes whenever I felt in need of them. Every time I’m in a bar on karaoke night, I search the song catalog in vain looking for “East Harlem.”
12. Beastie Boys
Seeing how much I listened to the Boys this year compared to last, I can’t think of anything they did in the last 12 months that would have inspired me – I know a new book is out, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. At any rate, they are, and forever will be, one of my favorites. RIP, MCA.
11. Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion is a venue close to my home and heart, so hearing good things about the live album they recorded there is the reason I finally checked out Animal Collective. It’s several years old, but like much on this list, new to me. The songs “My Girls” and “Summertime Clothes” are standouts.
There’s a few phrases in Waxahatchee’s songs where her southern accent twangs just enough to rise above the deep emotion in her voice, and it colors her sharp lyrics with something different that I really enjoyed listening to this year.
Like the Beastie Boys, I can’t think of anything that happened with Nirvana this year that would have caused me to deep dive back in like I haven’t in years – but that’s what I did. (Maybe it was reading Carrie Brownstein’s wonderful book, where early Nirvana gigs are sketched in to depict her scene of Seattle/Tacoma in the 90’s) Nirvana’s songs still feel fresh, and every listen of Unplugged is a reminder of what brilliant performers they were. Over time, “Live at Reading” has become my favorite from their catalog.
8. Real Estate
My favorite song by Real Estate is probably “Easy,” and that’s basically what their sound is. Heartfelt, and easy. The melodies feel like a lazy drive through a leafy suburb, but with just enough traffic to keep you awake. They’ve released a few new records since 2011’s “Days,” but I haven’t found any reason to stop listening to it. Also: this video is hilarious.
7. Courtney Barnett
Somehow, Courtney wasn’t in my top 50 last year, despite the probably millions of times I listened to “Elevator Operator.” This year she jumped all the way into my top ten. Her new record, “Tell me How You Really Feel,” along with the tour stop I caught at The Anthem in D.C. had a lot to do with that. On the new record, the power of her guitar and her band feels like it’s caught up with the genius of her storytelling and wit.
Like Ms. Barnett, DIIV was also missing from my top 50 last year and jumped into the top ten. They play driving, fuzzy rock, reminding me of Interpol or even some of Nirvana’s softer moments. I do really like them, but the truth is, they might have climbed so high on the list because I left their album streaming on repeat one night and forgot it was playing.
5. Dave Matthews
Dave Matthews was #43 on my list last year, and now he’s #5. I’m tempted to give all the credit to the song “Virginia Rain,” from his newest album, but it’s crazy to suggest that he hasn’t written like a thousand other amazing songs that I like just as much.
4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Of all that landed in my top ten this year, I think U.M.O. deserves the title of “freshest.” They kind of defy genre, dipping between funk, r&b, pop, indie… I don’t know what the hell to call them, and can’t even say they’re very consistent in style between songs – imagine pairing up Funkadelic and George Benson, throwing in some Roger Waters, and a dash of Robyn, maybe some Oasis? You’d be somewhere in the neighborhood. Maybe that’s what kept me listening this year – not being sure what was going to come next.
3. Claude Debussy
I think what keeps me coming back to Debussy, more than the rest of all the genius classical composers, is that his work can sound like the piano is just having a conversation with itself, instead of being played by someone who doesn’t fully understand it and thinks it’s just a simple tool for amusement. Debussy somehow transforms it into a self-actualized object, capable of contemplating its own beauty, playing itself just for its own pleasure.
I was only a little surprised to see that Bonobo stayed in my second spot this year. It’s been almost exactly two years since a new release, but the old ones still sound just as good. I guess I’m not the only fan, either – I just walked out of a yoga class wherein Bonobo was placed not once, but TWICE during the hour. I don’t go to yoga that often, but when I do – hearing Bonobo twice in a session isn’t uncommon.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles claimed my number one spot again this year. The anniversary release of the White Album had a lot to do with that – it was my first time hearing the ’Esher Demos,’ which were recorded in George’s apartment prior to the studio sessions. The songs are just acoustic demos, and they peel back a few layers from the Fab Four – behind all the personality, the fame, the genius production, the drama – they wrote songs beautiful for their simplicity.