In 2018, I listened to over 1,700 different musicians (and +10k unique songs.) At that scale, this list of my top 50 artists only represents about 3% of the total that I heard. So what the hell are numbers worth, anyway?
As much as you can learn from recorded statistics and quantification, some of the most essential things in life will still slip through, uncaptured. When it comes to music listening, that means: a Blues Traveler radio sing-along in my wife’s car; the walk-up music just before a home run at Nationals Park; hours of spinning A Charlie Brown Christmas on vinyl. Spotify doesn’t know about or remember any of those moments, but I do.
Likewise, some of the best concert performances I saw this year – Florence & The Machine, Snarky Puppy, and the Wu-Tang Clan – were by artists who aren’t on my ‘most listened’ list, but who I’ll remember as much as those who are.
All that said – I check the counts anyway, looking for trends. There’s SO MUCH to listen to out there, and it’s so EASY to do it now. There’s no excuse for not exploring.
Here’s who I listened to the most on Spotify in 2018:
50. Max Cooper
I don’t really know what to say about Max Cooper. It’s just a bunch of sound. All kinds of sounds. Sounds coming from every direction. Usually there’s some kind of beat, keeping time like a lawnmower from outer space. Keyboards, taps, clicks. Great stuff.
49. Digable Planets
I’ve been digging Shabazz Palace’s records for a while, and listening recently, something finally clicked for me – oh shit, that’s the MC from Digable Planets! I dug back into their old catalog for some kind reminders of how fun hip-hop was back in the early 90’s.
48. David Arnold & Michael Price
Don’t laugh – this is a bit elementary. I got on a kick where I thought listening to the Sherlock soundtrack while I worked might help me solve problems better. That’s why these guys are showing up here. I don’t think it helped, but I did enjoy the tunes. I’ve since switched to brain.fm to try facilitating flow states and deep work.
47. Action Bronson
I got turned onto A.B. when someone recommended a YouTube video where he’s just traveling in Paris, drinking “natural wine.” His flows are pretty natural too. Opportunity be knockin…
46. The Rolling Stones
As much as I love the Stones, I’m still a novice, usually listening to ’Some Girls’ over and over. So digging into their back catalog always turns up great stuff – this year I got into “Out of Our Heads,” their album from ’65.
45. Talking Heads
I was at a bar over the Summer that had “Stop Making Sense” playing on a projector. I’d never seen it before, so naturally, I started watching and stopped paying attention to anything else going on around me. Maybe one of the best concert videos of all time?
Jumping from old to new Radiohead is almost like listening to entirely different groups. ’The Bends’ scratches my 90’s rock itch, then I can dip into ‘Amnesiac’ for more millennial sensibilities. Also, 2018 was a fantastic year to revisit the political mood of ‘Hail to the Thief.’
43. Tame Impala
I just saw that Tame Impala has been announced as a headliner for Coachella this year. Good for them! I’m still mostly listening to ‘Lonerism,’ and honestly I’m kind of surprised Tame Impala is on my list this year but Alt-J is not. How did that happen?
This band had been on my radar for a while, but for some reason I shied away until this year, when I realized what a fun tune ’Tongue Tied’ is. I listened to ’Spreading Rumors’ a few times all the way through – it’s a play-the-whole-thing kind of record, and it’s wild.
New to me this year, FKJ serves a perfect dose of mellow vibes. Check out his studio videos if you appreciate watching a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist at work. FKJ stands for “French Kiwi Juice,” and he’ll be at Coachella in 2019.
40. Jose Gonzales
I’ve been listening to Jose Gonzales as the singer in Junip for a while, but it was only this year I found his solo work. If you played Junip and the solo stuff to me in a blind taste test, I’m not sure I could tell the difference – but they’re both great.
39. Jon Hopkins
I stumbled on an interview with Hopkins this year on the “Astral Hustle” podcast, and really enjoyed listening to his take on travel, meditation, and music. He seems like a brilliant and down to earth guy – he brings his own tea cup with him wherever he is on the road, because (I’m paraphrasing) “rituals are important.”
38. Bad Religion
In a brilliant stroke of dramatic irony, Bad Religion released the best Christmas album I’ve heard in years. As soon as Thanksgiving rolls around, I can’t stop listening to it.
37. Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso is only #37 on my “artists” list this year, but they claimed the top spot in my “songs” category. I listened to “Play it Right” more than any other tune this year. I mean, how can I not love a band whose bio on Spotify is only two sentences – “We are a band made of Amelia Meath and Nicholas Sanbourn. We make pop songs about complicated feelings.”
36. Dropkick Murphys
When I saw the Murphy’s play a show this year, I realized I’m creeping up on 20 years since the first time I saw them live in ‘99. From a bare stage in a dirty parking lot then, to a sold-out club with custom-built stage props and theater production now, they’ve come a long way without losing a shred of what makes them the amazing band that they are.
35. Little Dragon
One of my best “internet moments” this year happened when I randomly found myself on YouTube while Little Dragon was doing a live broadcast from a store in Seattle, via KEXP radio. Watching Yukimi in real time from thousands of miles away, as she slid through her smooth groves while people on the street barely stopped to look, was one of those weird experiences that brought to mind how much technology has changed everything.
The first week of 2018 started with some difficult news from Foals – their bassist of 12 years, Walter, quit the band. They also announced they were working on new music, but we’re still waiting to hear it. No worries – “Total Life Forever” is still just as good as it was the first day I heard it.
33. Chet Faker
Nothing new from Chet Faker in a while – not even a single in the last 3 years. Is he still making music? I hope so. I mean, I’ll keep listening to “Thinking in Textures,” but I have a feeling he’s got more ideas to work with.
32. Kali Uchis
It wasn’t until mid-December annual roundups started appearing that I had even heard of Kali Uchis, so it’s pretty amazing that in just a couple weeks she climbed up so high on my “charts.” And since she’s originally from the D.C. area, I’m embarrassed for being so late to know about a local talent!
31. Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear didn’t grab my attention the first time I heard them, ten years ago. Maybe my tastes are mellowing, or maybe I only came to appreciate the complex harmonies and guitar work with the wisdom (and exhaustion) of being a little bit older.
30. Wye Oak
I discovered Wye Oak this year and exclusively listened to their 2011 release, “Civilian.” It’s a safe bet that all their other records are just as good. The singer, Jenn Wasner, has a fantastic voice that can slip from sonorous to soft in a single phrase, reminding me of other vocalists like Emma Richardson, Erika Wennerstrom and Liela Moss.
29. Rudresh Mahanthappa
I’m not sure how I found Rudresh, but I was hooked on the phenomenal abstract jazz immediately. His records sound like one guy with four brains and six mouths playing a single saxophone – and making it sing.
I remember thinking at some point in the last few months that Phantogram somehow reminds me of Fleetwood Mac – both took the best pop and rock styles of their era and smoothed them into something new and wonderful. Oh, and the whole sexual tension between band members thing, too.
27. Broken Social Scene
Maybe when I’m a graybeard (that’s probably coming sooner than I want) I’ll look back on BSS the way that Boomers look back on The Traveling Wilbury’s. A supergroup for the indie rock generation – but with more feminine firepower.
26. Wolf Alice
I can’t heap enough praise on Wolf Alice. I had an eargasm when the Song Exploder podcast did an episode this Summer for their song “Don’t Delete The Kisses.” I also can’t neglect to mention the Christmas song they released on Spotify – “Santa Baby” never sounded so sweet.
25. The xx
On my mental list of acts I haven’t seen live but want to, The xx reigns near the top. Maybe 2019 will bring a new album and a tour, and if I’m lucky, this time they’ll choose venues big enough to actually accommodate everyone who wants to see them. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep listening to Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”