Top 89 of 2018: Best Albums

The Current's Top 89 of 2018
The Current's Best Albums of 2018 (Luke Mills | MPR)

Let's face it: The Current's listener-curated Top 89 countdown is the main attraction among our year-end lists. By voting for your favorite songs of 2018 in our Top 89 poll, you're entered to win a serious Down in the Valley prize pack. We'll air the whole countdown from 5 p.m. to midnight CT on New Year's Eve and again on Jan. 1 from 12-7 p.m. CT.

That said, there's more to the story this year. While you make those tough voting decisions, we wanted to celebrate some of the extra-canticular categories of 2018: Best New Artists, Best Albums, Best Local Artists, Best Sessions, and Best Twin Cities Concerts. Here are our picks for Best Albums, chosen by The Current's staff and listed chronologically according to release date.

Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo

Music assistant Jesse Wiza calls Con Todo El Mundo "The record we didn't know we needed, but desperately did." Although the title of their sophomore album is borrowed from Spanish and their band name means "airplane" in Thai, Khruangbin are based in Texas. Earlier this year they stopped by The Current's studio.

Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You

Earlier this month, Brandi Carlile became the most-nominated female artist for the 2019 Grammy Awards, with six nominations under her belt. Her sixth studio album, By the Way, I Forgive You paints a powerful portrait of an artist grappling with her identity and evolving world. Jim McGuinn, who sat down with Carlile in The Current's studio this February, wrote,

By the Way, I Forgive You is an emotionally powerful dive into her worldview, impacted by events of 2016, but also about becoming a parent, watching your parents get older, and dealing with love and loss and self-reflection.

Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

Dirty Computer is funky. It is personal. It is an act of resistance. It comes with an emotion picture (Monáe released a 48 minute-long film to accompany the album). In her Album of the Week write-up, Jade described the album:

Dirty Computer shows off the most human and quite possibly personal side of Monáe. It's a dazzling showcase of the many sides of Monáe, and all the better for their touch of humanity.

Leon Bridges – Good Thing

Leon Bridges broke out a slick new sound on his second album, branching out from the retro, stripped-down vibe of his debut full-length. Bill DeVille described Bridges' musical exploration on Good Thing:

The new album, Good Thing, is ambitious, bouncing all over the place musically, but in a very good way. Leon shows he is more than just a great singer. He sounds like a man on a mission to make a great album.

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Australian deadpan specialist Courtney Barnett followed up her 2015 debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit with a 10-song project this year. Music director David Safar explains how Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders influenced Tell Me How You Really Feel:

The comparison to grunge has been an obvious one since Barnett's debut EPs were released, but now it feels intentional. For rock fans, this is a must-have album of 2018.

Bad Bad Hats – Lightning Round

Bad Bad Hats have gone through a few line-up changes since their 2015 album Psychic Reader. Bassist Noah Boswell left to go to grad school; bassist/drummer Connor Davison and drummer Reese Kling joined the band; and frontperson Kerry Alexander married guitarist Chris Hoge. According to Local Show host Andrea Swensson in her Album of the Week write-up, these changes resulted in a patch of fertile ground for Bad Bad Hats:

The new album seems to find the band in the middle of a growth spurt. Kerry Alexander challenged herself to contemplate the unique ups and downs of long-term relationships in her songs.

Mitski – Be the Cowboy

Mitski has released five albums in her 28 years. Be the Cowboy, the most recent of these, packs 14 songs in 32 minutes. Writing about Be the Cowboy for an Album of the Week feature, host Mac Wilson uses a great metaphor for this sprint:

The effect is like taking a whirlwind tour of an opulent mansion, where the listener gets a few minutes in each ornate room before being whisked off to a different, equally gorgeous spot.

Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine

Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner have been collaborating as Eaux Claires Festival co-curators for almost five years. Their songwriting partnership dates back even farther, and this year, they poured out their first batch of songs as Big Red Machine. Jade points out one of her favorite tracks while writing about Big Red Machine's self-titled as Album of the Week:

Balancing the sounds of The National and Bon Iver, "Gratitude" is an album standout. It is one part prayer, one part meditation; it lulls and invigorates in equal measure.

Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You for Today

Indie-rock forefathers Death Cab for Cutie released their ninth studio album this year, confessional as ever. Album closer "60 & Punk" has struck a particular chord with our staff, including New Hot host David Safar, who writes:

[In "60 & Punk,"] Gibbard sings about a musician who is clinging to the lifestyle of their youth. He sings, "There's nothing elegant in being a drunk/ It's nothing righteous being sixty and a punk."

Low – Double Negative

Double Negative isn't an easy listen, but it's worth your time. Writing about Double Negative for an October Album of the Week, Mark Wheat encourages readers to keep on:

Don't be too scared by the first track, which makes it sound like your system has 'blown"; it gets more coherent and structured as the album goes on, although never falling into a pattern.

Top 89 of 2018: Bonus Categories

The Current Staff's Favorite Songs of 2018


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