Listening Now: Best Albums of 2018

What a year.

This year I turned 25 (my swanky 20s-themed party pictured above) and celebrated with new friends who have become close friends, grew a ton in my work, challenged myself to write and paint with this little project and by saying yes to every commission, explored Colorado for the first time accompanied by new friends, celebrated being debt free by vacationing to Seattle with a dear friend, and became an AUNT!

Woah. What a year to look back on. The Lord is good. All the time. All the time. The Lord is good.

We’re only 12 weeks in, but I can’t thank you enough for reading these, talking music with me, and continuing to share all that inspires us.

May all your favorite bands stay together.

– Dawes.

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Check out the Listening Now archive here. 

Best Albums of the Year

The Year of Forgiveness

Forgiveness seems to be a common theme as I compiled my favorite albums of 2018. These aren’t exclusively my favorite songs of 2018, (though many are featured) but my favorite entire albums—gold from beginning to end. They’re favorites for different reasons. In the hours I’ve spent listening to music, I’ve noticed it takes a lot to make a good album. Not just a hit (which is already a lot of work), but an album that makes the listener want to spin it on repeat, an album full of records that are contributing to a bigger story, an album in which the more you listen to it, the more meaning you get out of it. That’s what I got out of these.

P.S. NPR released their 50 albums of the year and though I’ve tried to keep up, I’m barely through it. I highly recommend checking these artists out if you’re wanting to hear something new.

1. Brandi Carlile – By the Way, I Forgive You.

In February 2018, Jon Hart, Music Director at The Bridge and my personal music hero walked into our office for a meeting and I flipped. You would have thought I mistook him for JT, but he’s just this humble gentleman who champions local music and is the man behind the curtain at The Bridge, our local indie radio station. After I stopped hyperventilating, Jon and I talked for no-joke 20 minutes about his recent trip out to Seattle and interview with Brandi Carlile and we gushed about how wonderful her work is. Jon is just as kind in person as he seems on the radio. In fact, after we chatted and Jon and Andy (still don’t really know what Andy does, but he’s great) gave me two tickets to the Brandi Carlile show at the Midland in June. I cried. Since then, Jon’s recognized me at concerts and we’ve shared a quick list of the things we’re listening to and the shows on our wish list. His wife is the best person to dance with at concerts.

Pics or it didn’t happen:

Anyway, all that to say that Brandi Carlile holds a special place in my heart. She made us all stop in our tracks the first time we ever heard “The Story,” which for me was a Paste magazine sampler years ago. And she did it again with “The Joke” on her “By the Way, I Forgive You” album this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve rambled about this album to anyone that ever asked me this year what I was listening to. Also, Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers painted the portrait on her album cover.

In short, this album is essential listening for anyone who has struggled to forgive or be forgiven. So all of us. Its title comes from the song “Every time I hear that song” which is about Carlile’s process of forgiving the minister who refused to baptize her after she came out as gay when she was a teenager. But the album itself is an entire unfolding of the process of forgiveness.

“Forgiveness,” Carlile says, “is an act that is inherently radical… when it’s a really filthy radical, difficult, impossible thing to do, that might be the very reason we’re here on earth, is to learn how to do it. It’s not a word to be taken lightly and it’s so much easier said than done and I just want to talk about it and sing about it for a while.”

Please, do not start 2019 without listening to this album.

Brandi Carlile on KEXP
Listening Now: Americana

“Carlile’s huge, warm voice, with its vibrato ending each phrase as if turning into a memory, works perfectly within the album’s grand, expressive settings, untethered to genre, massive but intimate. Whether sharing the story of “Sugartooth,” an addict and the people who love him even as he slips out of their safe hold, or assuring the bullied children of “The Joke” that they will walk in the sunlight of their own truth soon, or realizing that her father’s advice to bear no malice doesn’t contradict her mother’s about knowing when to fight, Carlile rises to meet its imperatives. Each song asks how she, how any of us, can face the ugliness life creates and still hold out a hand — toward the dark, so that it might possibly transform; toward those we love and those we fear, so that, as one prayer of forgiveness once said, we all may be delivered.”
—Ann Powers, in NPR’s Best Albums of 2018 

2. Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Take the same theme of forgiveness, add a strong British accent, a breaking heart, a sharp political mind and a history of punk rock and you have Frank Turner.

Where Brandi’s album is a range of tears for forgiveness, Frank’s is a shouting, street evangelist’s cry for justice, with a smirk. Frank Turner’s music career started in the punk scene, and, similar to Glen Hansard, he moved from that punk scene into a folk-Americana, post-punk genre that I seem to be hearing more and more.

Lyrics are essential to Turner, who spends hours on the road reading political and historical prose. His music and lyrics equally evoke mosh pits. With this album, Turner turned the genre on itself. His musical heritage is full of revolution and anti-establishment mentalities. Though he’s a man with a lot of outspoken political opinions, Turner decided to do something even more radical—make a rock album about being kind.

3. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

When I saw Kacey Musgraves a few summers ago, she walked on stage dressed as a Texas barbie, strutting out in front of neon cacti as one of her bandmates announced: “And now, welcome to the stage, The Cactus Queen of Texas.” Even then I knew, this was going to be the best free show I’ve ever attended.

Musgraves continues to defy any box we put her in. Her lyrics are clever and a constant run of puns and plays on words. She writes catchy country-esque tunes in one song, then moves on to the next with electronica or even piano. Don’t even try to catch up, she’s miles ahead. Few people can so poignantly describe the heartbreak of rural life, which for many throughout the US, drives on like a typical country song, though pain returns. I’m talking mostly about her song “Merry Go Round” which still echoes in my head.

Her latest album doesn’t really feel like a neon sign, more like those long drives on a road trip when you start talking about what you’re really thinking about—all the heartbreak and the hard work and the simple joy of it all.

“It’s an album that feels like a moon landing – one small step for an artist who’s been traveling beyond her home genre from the minute she arrived in it…”
– Ann Powers, in NPR’s Best Albums of 2018

4. Novo Amor – Birthplace

You have already heard of my love for Novo Amor. It was a breath of fresh air to learn of his work this year. The “Birthplace” album and others are worth playing on repeat.

For more about Novo, read my Advent: Peace blog post/newsletter.

5. Mipso – Edges Run

Mipso’s “Edges Run” album was a pleasant surprise. There are artists out there that we fall in love with, for me it’s NIcklecreek, and think we’ll never hear another thing like it. Mipso’s “Edges Run” album is a sweet nod to bluegrass with playful and reflective melodies and lyrics that remind me of Nicklecreek, or its brother band The Punch Brothers.

Listening Now: Chill the Folk Out

6. Middle Kids – Lost Friends

My indie crush of the year. Middle Kids was very much my summer and fall anthem. They’re everything you need in an indie band—spunk, cheeky lyrics, and rock anthems that you make you dance. Looking forward to more from this band.

Listening Now: Indie Shallow Dive (Part 1: Women)

7. Drake – Scorpion

Remember this summer when Drake got us all in our feelings? Best Drake album yet. Keep doin you, Aubrey.

Also, shout out to one of my fave Insta accounts: Drake on Cake (@drakeoncake)

8. Leon Bridges – Good Thing

Mmhmm. Leon Bridges continues to swipe the scene with swanky R&B hits that make us all swoon.

Check out his interview on the World Cafe. 

9. Caroline Rose – LONER/ Bad Bad Hats – Lightning Round

Both Caroline Rose and Bad Bad Hats came out with some super fun albums this year. Caroline Rose’s dark sense of humor and dance ballads made for a great summer drive and Bad Bad Hats’ Lightning Round was a coming-of-age follow up to their debut album.

Listening Now: Indie (Part 1: Women)

10. Radical Face – Missing Film

This album was so different from any other indie artists’ releases this year. Radical Face’s instrumental album “missing film” was a fascinating album, at times both challenging and invigorating.

“This album affirms my suspicions that Ben Cooper (the force behind the band) could score a moody indie drama. His music, already featured in films and TV shows, inspires such rich emotion- generally along the sad and/or nostalgic tenor- that he’d have little problem hitting the climactic highs and intense lows that a film project would ask of him.

And lo, it is true. The purpose of the album (clearly indicated by its title) is for producers to use- under an open license, for free. It’s all meant for the visual- as stated by producing label Bear Machine Records. And that concept also explains the thematic differences in the song without a clear through concept. “

The Indy Review

11. Lake Street Dive – Free Yourself Up

Lake Street Dive will take us all by storm. You best be ready. The band’s fourth album continued to push the boundaries of jazz, funk, and folk with dramatic, yet relatable songs like “Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts,” “I Can Change,” and “Good Kisser.” Groove on.

Listening Now: Americana 

12. DeVotchka – This Night Falls Forever

The night does seem to fall forever in DeVotchKa’s first full-length album in seven years. It sounds like a soundtrack to an indie movie, different from Radical Face’s free indie movie soundtrack, but more like a montage of complex emotions and dynamic earworms one after another.

Listening Now: Madelynne’s Mix Tapes

13. Parker Millsap – Other Arrangements

Oklahoma, you’re okay. Parker Millsap does the state justice with his latest release “Other Arrangements.” In concert, it’s what I imagine Woody Guthrie would be like if he had grown up with an electric guitar. At 25, he’s already four albums in and making a name for himself in the country-rock world.

This article is pretty entertaining.

14. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats – Tearing at the Seams

I expect great things from Nathaniel Rateliff. His album “Tearing at the Seams” was a late listen for me after enjoying a lot of his singles on The Bridge, but I rediscovered him again at the end of the year and this whole album pairs really well with winter.

“Many artists wait for the day they can stop working as servers and make a full-time living as musicians. Today’s guest, Nathaniel Rateliff, is a platinum-selling artist whose generosity onstage makes the music business seem like the service industry. Nathaniel pushes his vocal cords to their very brink, rips open his rib cage to share his heart and leads his seven bandmates with absolute passion – all in service of making sure his audience has a good time and feels something.” 

– Talia Schlanger on World Cafe

Artists to Watch in 2019

Chance the Rapper

Maggie Rogers

The Front Bottoms

Hobo Johnson


Jade Bird

Nathaniel Rateliff

Lake Street Dive

Dermot Kennedy

Playlists n Things

This week’s playlists 
Best Albums of 2018 
Best of The Bridge 2018 

Peach Scone
Southern Gothic 

The BEMA podcast – deep dive into the context of the Bible with scholars Marty Solomon and Brent Billings.
On the first episode, they break down how Genesis 1 is a mind-blowing chiasm.

Mark your calendar!

Upcoming Concerts

Jan 12 – Live from Here with Chris Thile (Kauffman)

Jan 19 – Trampled by Turtles (Truman – T)

Jan 25 – Hippo Campus (T)

Jan 26 – Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear (T)

Jan 31 – DeVotchka (Record Bar)

Feb 6 – William Fitzsimmons (RB)

Feb 13 – Rainbow Kitten Surprise w Mt Joy (T)

Feb 26 – Soccer Mommy (RB)

Feb 27 – *I’m With Her with Mipso (Folly)

Mar 4 – Noname (Granada)

Mar 8 – Andrew McMahon (T)

March 16 – Jukebox the Ghost + Mowglis (T)

March 26 – Novo Amor (RB)!!!!!!!!

March 27 – St Paul & the Broken Bones (Mid)

Apr 3 – The Wild Reeds (RB)

Apr 5 – John Crist – Sold out

Apr 7 – BROODS (T)

Apr 10 – Mandolin Orange (Madrid)

Apr 28 – Aziz Ansari (Mid)

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