Doug Paisley in The New Yorker’s Ten Best Albums of 2018
By Amanda Petrusich
If you are a person who believes, as I do, that popular music is a mirror of sorts—that it reflects something undeniable about the national condition at any given moment—then it appears we were all feeling pretty bummed out in 2018. The story is written right there on the charts: “sad!,” “Rich and Sad,” “In My Feelings,” “This Is America.”
Streaming has made it easier than ever for dedicated listeners to retreat deeper into cocoons of their own making. At times, this felt like an uncomfortably apt reflection of a year in which communication itself turned fraught and unsteady. Sometimes the easiest way to deal with heartache and frustration is simply to place your hands firmly over your ears and stop listening to the other side. That impulse—to protect yourself, and hold steady in your beliefs—is cold and vulgar, but occasionally necessary. “When we are nice to others, we generally lose all claim to their respect,” Marcel Proust once wrote. “Nice for what” is how Drake phrased it.
Still, the charts proffered some highlights in 2018—moments of extraordinary ingenuity and verve. Fans feverishly awaited significant new releases from the Swedish pop singer Robyn (“Honey,” her eighth and most artfully produced record, repositions desire as a virtue rather than a weakness) and the Bronx-born rapper Cardi B. (“Invasion of Privacy,” which immediately set several sales records, is a funny, brazen, and self-assured début.) The tough but plaintive country singer Kacey Musgraves released “Golden Hour,” a lilting and confessional collection anchored by the single “Slow Burn,” a pleasing ode to chilling out that nods to Neil Young and Sufjan Stevens. The rapper and singer Travis Scott, an acolyte of Kanye West, released “Astroworld,” his rich and multitudinous third LP, in August. The record was titled after a defunct amusement park in Scott’s home town of Houston. “Astroworld” is a party record by most any metric, but it’s also suffused with an odd, nameless longing. Whatever glories Scott is chasing, one gets the sense that it’s been a cheerless pursuit. “Sicko Mode,” Scott’s first single to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 (the title refers to a kind of hyperproductive work state), is built around a sample of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Gimme the Loot.” I suppose if we can’t find happiness we can at least find great riches.
For me, the biggest—and most hopeful—pop-music story of the year was the uncanny sturdiness of Ariana Grande, whose new album, “Sweetener,” was in large part a response to the bombing, in 2017, of her concert in Manchester, England, in which twenty-three people—ten of them under the age of twenty—were killed, and more than eight hundred were injured. Less than three weeks after the release of “Sweetener,” Grande’s former boyfriend and collaborator Mac Miller died, of an overdose, in his Los Angeles home; a little more than a month later, she called off her engagement to the comedian Pete Davidson. It’s hard to imagine all that loss in just eighteen months—so many ghastly reminders of the tenuousness of living! Grande, who is just twenty-five, endured it with incredible grace, allowing, even, for periodic moments of joy and gratitude. Last month, she released “thank u, next,” an airy, reflective single about refusing anger and bitterness in favor of peace. “I’m so fuckin’ grateful for my ex,” she promises. “Thank u, next” was the first single by a woman to début atop the Hot 100 in three years. Perhaps the national condition is moving closer toward magnanimity.
In the meantime, here’s a list of ten records I loved in 2018, listed in alphabetical order. I am so indebted to them, and to you. Thank you, as ever, for reading.
Doug Paisley, “Starter Home”
The Toronto-based folksinger Doug Paisley seems to know something about heartbreak, regret, and the cold. His songs are quiet and contemplative, laments for everything he wanted but just couldn’t keep.
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