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Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2018

Not the Worst of Times

Dec 30, 2018 Low Bookmark and Share

And here we are, the end of another year. The last 12 months tried the patience of anyone who longed for civility in politics, with divisive policies and a president beloved by only his most ardent supporters. Both fueled a cable news cycle that’s become one long panel show with continuous “breaking news” about the latest Washington scandal and investigation, none of which are likely to end the Trump presidency much sooner than the 2020 election (if then). As Macbeth once said, it’s all “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Many would thus say that 2018’s been a bad year, and sure there is much to worry about, including the threat of authoritarian rule gaining a foothold across the globe, escalating trade wars, continued income inequality, government shutdowns, immigrant children in detention centers, the uncertainty about what automation and artificial intelligence will mean for humanity in the coming years, and more dire unheeded warnings about global warming. But it could also be so much worse.

What of those newspaper music critics who might have wrapped up 1929’s best albums, setting up a survey of the year’s new music by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and others with an intro about the recent stock market crash of October 29 (aka Black Tuesday) and the beginning of The Great Depression? Or the critic writing about 1941’s best new music from Lead Belly and Glenn Miller only weeks after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor? History is littered with truly terrible years: 536, when an extreme weather event triggered by either an asteroid or an Icelandic volcano eruption led to an atmospheric dust veil that cooled the Earth and resulted in widespread famine and drought, 1347, when the Black Death pandemic hit Europe, 1914, when World War I began, 1918, when a flu pandemic began that killed 100 million people, and so on, and so on.

I’m not sure how much comfort can be taken in the concept that it could always be much worse and it certainly won’t mean much if the machines one day take over and make us all their slaves or if the planet in unlivable thanks to global warming. Also, for those facing personal tragedies in 2018, it might have truly been one of the worst years for you (and you have our sympathies). And, of course, some of you reading this might support President Trump and his agenda and for you it’s maybe been a good year filled with political victories, including a new Supreme Court Associate Justice prevailing despite various sexual assault allegations (although the Midterms didn’t quite go your way).

But was it a good or bad year for music? That’s what we’re really here to talk about. Is any year truly bad for music? In 2017 The A.V. Club published an article positing that two weeks in late June and early July 1997 might be the worst period in music history, as it saw the release of albums by such critically reviled artists as Sugar Ray, Insane Clown Posse, Blues Traveler, Limp Bizkit, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Dropkick Murphys, Smash Mouth, Puff Daddy, Celine Dion, as well as the Men in Black soundtrack. But 1997 also saw the release of many great albums: Radiohead’s OK Computer, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, Blur’s Blur, The Verve’s Urban Hymns, Björk’s Homogenic, Built to Spill’s Perfect From Now On, Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West, Daft Punk’s Homework, Portishead’s Portishead, Stereolab’s Dots and Loops, Supergrass’ In it For the Money, Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point, The Divine Comedy’s A Short Album About Love, The Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka, Super Furry Animals’ Radiator, and many others. If you search hard enough can’t you always find some worthy new music each year?

Still, for me personally (and I’ve heard this from others too), there were a lot of albums I really liked in 2018 but few I fell head over heels for. My #1 album of 2018 could have just as easily been any of the albums in my Top 10, as I liked them all fairly equally. And if any of my second, third, fourth, or fifth favorite albums of 2017 had been released in 2018 then I think they would’ve surely topped my 2018 list as I liked them all more than any album released this year.

Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2018 list, thankfully, doesn’t just reflect my opinion; instead 27 of our writers and editors (including myself and my co-publisher/wife Wendy) each submitted a list of their favorite albums of the year and were encouraged to turn in at least a Top 45. All-in-all 473 different albums were submitted for the vote, but to make the Top 100 an album had to be picked by at least three or more separate writers (the Top 6, for example, were all picked by at least 20 or more of our writers). We then did a tiebreaker vote for our #1 album between the two at the top, to make sure we were all in agreement on our #1 (the vote was still close, so you could almost call it a tie for the top spot). Then we did another vote to determine the bottom three from a list of 17 albums that almost made the Top 100 (check out our list of Honorable Mentions for 36 albums that came close, some of which I’m sad didn’t make the main list, and also read our list of the Top 25 Debut Albums of 2018).

For those of you who might complain that this is a very indie rock-centric list, well we are an indie rock-focused magazine and website after all. You wouldn’t expect a hip-hop, metal, or dance music website to include albums by Father John Misty, Beach House, and Courtney Barnett on their favorite albums of 2018 list, would you? So don’t expect us to overly feature those genres (or mainstream pop albums) on our list. Our Top 100 Albums of 2018 list also accurately reflects our editorial coverage in the last year, including many of the artists we interviewed in 2018.

Barring a pandemic, world war, asteroid strike, or another disaster, hopefully 2019 will at least be another average year that’s not the worst, but one we can dream is populated with truly classic albums. We’ll have to see where we are at in December 2019. For now, here are our 100 favorite albums of 2018.

Check out the full Top 100 Albums of 2018 list in our list section here.

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