As 2018 comes to a close, we give you one of our most beloved traditions: our year-end album list. For a look back at previous installments, check out our lists from 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. We don’t necessarily assert that these five albums are the best albums of the year, as authoritative lists like that are best left to music blogs and magazines. They are merely the ones we played the hell out of, a glimpse into an important part of our company culture: our collective soundtrack. So without further ado, here are 5 Albums We Played The Hell Out Of In 2018.
1. Coheed & Cambria – Unheavenly Creatures 
I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader – this right here is some penultimately nerdy shit. Even for a band whose defining feature is a career-spanning sci-fi comic book story arc on which all (except one) of their albums are based, their ninth release toes the guilty pleasure line.
Broader in scope than their previous work but sticking to their unique value proposition, Unheavenly Creatures is a grandiose space opera that cherry-picks sonic elements from a wide spectrum of genres. Progressive metal remains the core architecture, laced with bouncy major-key pop, soaring arena rock riffs, and fiendishly catchy power ballad choruses. The majority of the album’s fifteen tracks top five minutes and feature multiple movements – even for the resilient, this thing is a visceral and rewarding undertaking.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Unheavenly Creatures [4:14]
2. Shakey Graves – Can’t Wake Up 
“Next album. New sound. Sell your suspenders”. While Texas songwriter Shakey Graves was crystal clear about the major change in direction he’d be taking for 2018’s Can’t Wake Up, the finished product is anything but clear. A back catalog of finger-picking campfire tunes are traded for additional personnel and production techniques, built up in deliberately misaligned layers to create a hazy, sometimes uncomfortable fever dream. Vocals are double-tracked and ever so slightly out of sync, backed with dissonant harmonies and queasy psychedelic guitar effects. Vintage analog keyboard organs (like the Mellotron and Optigan) add a crackly flair reminiscent of a haunted Disney carnival.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Counting Sheep [4:56]
3. Pusha T – DAYTONA 
Pusha T, now 41 years old and having spent the past three as the president of Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, is an adult in a room full of children. His concise seven-track release DAYTONA is the work of a stone-faced technician who wastes zero syllables. While his subject matter isn’t necessarily groundbreaking (mostly odes to the opulence of ill-gotten gains and swipes at adversaries), Pusha demonstrates an uncanny level of precision control over his medium. He’s venomously clever but never plays the funnyman.
Kanye’s production is as zoned-in as Pusha’s delivery. Murky, minimal Yeezus-style beats pop in and out of a patchwork of obscure samples and airtight transitions. DAYTONA is the work of two professionals who require precisely twenty-one minutes to slaughter the opposition and see no use in running up the scoreboard.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: If You Know You Know [3:22]
4. Lane 8 – Summer 2018 Mixtape 
One might make the reasonable assumption that 77 tracks spanning more than five hours of runtime is too damned long for an album. But as evidenced by Denver-based DJ Lane 8’s Summer 2018 Mixtape, when those 77 tracks are woven so seamlessly together, those five hours fly by.
Lane 8’s sprawling seasonal mixes are always well-crafted, but this summer’s edition stands out as special. Combining unreleased tracks from his own catalog with ID-IDs from other emerging electronic artists from his own This Never Happened label, Summer 2018 Mixtape is a warm, enveloping, and immersive journey that requires only as much attention as you’re willing to give it at any given time – the subtle details peek through when sought out and blending back into the lush landscape.
5. The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk 
In stark contrast to the four incredibly buttoned-up albums already mentioned, The Front Bottoms’ 2013 release Talon of the Hawk sounds like an collection of raw demos: vocals with the consonant-heavy diction characteristic of early-2000s pop punk, lyrics with the brutal vulnerability of an unedited inner monologue, spastic (but never sloppy) drum beats, the ever-present hum of a lead acoustic guitar, and a few sparse, tasteful xylophone or trumpet riffs for color. The final product feels like drunken, rambling overshare about one’s hopes and fears to old friends after the house party has long since died down.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Twin Size Mattress [4:25]
Honorable Mentions: Our Individual Picks
Rediscovering Pantera’s 1990 classic Cowboys From Hell was a musical high point of 2018. The Texas groove-metal pioneers toiled away in obscurity for the better part of the 1980s before dropping this genre-defining gut punch, paving the way for nineties metal when everyone else was yarling along to grunge. A relentlessly heavy record that makes the most of its eighties metal influences, often combining a crushing barrage of thrash riffs and technical guitar work with a galloping, mid-tempo rhythm section. The vocals span a similar range, alternating between a guttural growl and theatrical glam-rock vibrato. Cowboys From Hell is auditory cocaine: a lucid, addictive burst of raw energy that still sounds razor-sharp nearly thirty years later.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Domination [5:05]
Hardly anyone knows how to tell a story with a DJ set. Ryan Davis (and his ongoing mission of promoting more depth in electronic music), does that and more with 18Cast, his once a year podcast. This beautiful and masterfully created mix increases the intensity from song to song, taking the listener on a vivid journey from getting out of bed in the morning, lounging in the afternoon, going out dancing at night, staying out til the sunrise, all back to crawling into bed to dream about the memories you just created.
I listen to mixes nearly every day, and this was the one I couldn’t stop coming back to in 2018.
After a five-year hiatus, the Chicagoan legends of horror rock return with their ninth studio album. Is This Thing Cursed? combines threads from the Trio’s entire discography, replete with aggressive anthems and dark love songs. It spins from haunting piano interludes into signature distortion and heavy bass lines, and then culminates with soaring vocals and acoustic heartbreak.
The album takes listeners on an adventure through the band’s 20+ year tenure with underlying themes of joyous rebellion, addiction and depression, and how to grow old in a punk rock band… in other words, a nice cuvée of nostalgia and progress.
If you’re only going to listen to one song: Goodbye Fire Island [3:32]