As we bid 2018 farewell and leap enthusiastically (or hesitantly) into a new year, we look back once more and shuffle through the haphazardly overflowing playlists we’ve created over the span of these 12 months. We’ve discovered our brazen confidence listening to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, immersed ourselves into the dreamy lyrics of Beach House’s 7 while continuing to reevaluate the state of current politics with Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain.
Scroll down and let the nostalgia wash over you.
Here are our top albums of 2018.
1. Con Todo El Mundo by Khruangbin
Released: January 26, 2018
“Khruangbin was one of the last bands I saw before leaving Chicago this year to move to Portland. The genesis of the band feels like something out of a novel — three musicians who eat at the same Southeast Asian restaurants in Texas start getting influenced by the unique, regional style of funk they hear while slurping down noodles, so they form a band.
An amalgamation of psychedelic rock, hip-hop, and Thai funk, Con Todo El Mundo spoke volumes to me as a work that could have only been created in today's digital age where influential, eclectic sounds and recordings are only a click away.
As I sat with the record, I heard b-boy jams (aka breakdance circles), prom dance floors of yesteryear, and hazy, sweat-filled lounges in my father's homeland of the Philippines. The album has grooves that'll make you boogie in broad daylight and ballads that'll beg you to open that moonroof while on a summertime midnight cruise.”
— Alex Paguirigan, Music Licensing Creative
2. Whack World by Tierra Whack
Released: May 30, 2018
“Tierra Whack is reconceptualizing what an album is and can be. Whack World is a delightful, playful, sensual and hooky romp of 15 one-minute songs that have done what all good art should do, left me wanting more.."
— Laura Hardin, Label Manager
3. Sweetener by Ariana Grande
Released: August 17, 2018
“Sweetener is such an honest record. It's full of happiness, joy and finding light. I can't help but smile when I listen to Sweetener. I love it so much.”
— Casey Wheeler, Project Manager/Creative Services
4. Skulls Example by Dear Nora
Released: May 25, 2018
"It's Katy's expressive and simplistic descriptions of nature that first caught my attention. "White Fur is in the care of no one," I'm walking on that snowy, sunny path in the woods of my childhood home when I listen.
The song, "Sunset on Humanity" describes the juxtaposition between two realities we have created for ourselves. Technological advancements and the natural world that still surrounds us.
Skulls Example is a contemporary example of our complex experiences in life...described in the most appropriately minimal of ways.."
— Jamie McMullen, Music Licensing Coordinator
5. The House by Porches
Released: January 19, 2018
“The House is filled with melancholic lyrics and interludes that make my heart ache, but it keeps me dancing from start to finish. The perfect balance of darkwave and synthpop.”
— Marilynn Wexler, Music Licensing Coordinator
6. Rare Birds by Jonathan Wilson
Released: January 19, 2018
7 . Isolation by Kali Uchis
Released: April 6, 2018
“Isolation features collaboration from a variety of artists from Jorja Smith to Steve Lacy, and it shows in the best of ways. Uchis' debut album mixes genres like funk, soul, and bossa nova (to name a few) into an intoxicating body of work that sounds both vintage and modern.”
— Fiona Kang, Community Ambassador
8 . BbyShoe by BbyMutha
Released: February 22, 2018
“BbyMutha was one of my favorite performances of this year, I saw her in Oakland at Women in Music Fest with a bunch of other talented women/femme performers.
— Jené Etheridge, Music Licensing Coordinator
9. Foxwarren and El Mal Querer
Released: November 30, 2018 + November 2, 2018
“There were so many phenomenal albums this year it's been hard to keep track. My list is going to be jockeying for positions through the end of the year. New on the list this week is the November release, Foxwarren (Andy Schauf's) band of 10 years, which glimmers with chordal structures reminiscent of Elliott Smith. It's emotionally charged and atmospheric. Rosaliá’s El Mal Querer sits at top with equally powerful and engaging Spanish pop constructed from her Flamenco roots. In the face of another adverse and challenging year in the political artists answer the call and continue to deliver their message. Looking forward to what 2019 has in store."
— Eric Nordby, Brand Ambassador + Music Producer
10. Hot Snakes by Jericho Sirens
Released: March 16, 2018
“After 14 years, Hot Snakes are back in town with "Jericho Sirens" - chock-full of Swami John's blistering guitar riffs, brutal beats by J Sinclair and Mario, Gar Wood's guttural bass grooves, and Rick's gnarly vocals. This album is sure to turn the party into a sweaty mess and not clean up after. Notable tunes include Six Wave Hold-Down, Death Camp Fantasy, I Need A Doctor, and Death Doula. I highly recommend giving album one a spin. Guaranteed to shred your ear balls.”
— Rob Dennler, Senior Creative Director
11. Wide Awake by Parquet Courts
Released: May 18, 2018
“Parquet Courts Wide Awake really took me by surprise this year. It takes the catchiness of Jock Jams and stadium rock and puts it through filters of punk rock, a sly sense of humor and raw artful simplicity. Also, you can dance to it (some of the songs are straight up funky).”
— Steve Schroeder, Artists & Repertoire Curation Manager
12. 7 by Beach House
Released: May 11, 2018
“There’s a stark departure in Beach House’s 7, the duo’s new approach being dialed up, shaking up the world of mellow daydreams evoked from their previous work. The masterful layering combined with haunting vocals feel spatially satisfying — ever mellow moment feels welcoming and entrancing from start to finish.”
— Michelle Goldstein, Copywriter
13. It’s A New Day Tonight by Michael Rault
Released: May 18, 2018
“Michael Rault's album It's a New Day Tonight delivers such a unique and timeless take on ‘70s psych pop — it's so refreshing. The melodies are infectious, the lyrical content is heartfelt and self reflective without feeling like a damn Nicholas Sparks novel and the production is next level insane, much due to Wayne Gordon of Daptone I'm sure. Spin if you like Wings, Badfinger, Big Star, and the like.”
— David Katz, Music Producer
14. God’s Favorite Customer by Father John Misty
Released: June 1, 2018
15. Love//Warrior by Frankie Simone
Release: September 6, 2018
“Love//Warrior is a pumped album packed full of empowerment and light. Frankie Simone kicks ass and Barton's production makes you wanna shake yours.”
— Jenna Covey, Community Ambassador
16. boygenius by boygenius
Released: October 26 2018
“Boygenius was short, sweet and sad, which is perfect since I'm a sucker for sad girl music. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus are all phenomenal artists by their own right, but putting the three of them together had some pretty magical results. Such a power trio.”
— Marissa Hernandez, Music Licensing Creative
17. Nearer My God by Foxing
Released: August 10, 2018
“Foxing's Nearer My God had all of my favorite things; distinct instrumentation not typically seen in the genre, sick guitar solos, and more angst than you can shake a stick at. Nothing says 2018 like post-hardcore-sad-boy music because everything sucks and you're just trying to make it to 2019.”
— Nathaniel Schmidt, Project Manager/Creative Services
18. Childqueen by Kadhja Bonet
Released: June 8, 2018
“I love the throwback, psych-soul sound of Kadhja Bonet's Childqueen. It feels comfortable like I'm in a familiar space, yet at the same time it's completely new. I could drown happily in Kadhja's honey voice — I love it so much.”
— Nicole Hooper, HR Generalist + People Operations Team Lead
19. Hope Downs by Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Released: June 15, 2018
“Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is a new-ish Australian outfit that makes raw, jangly guitar-driven rock music, reminiscent of R.E.M. the The Clean. Super solid band with somehow a fresh sound even though you can hear their influences.”
— Ryan Rebo , Software Engineer
20. Honorable Singles Mention
“We the Funk” by Dillion Francis feat. Fuego
“Turn up the heat — and turn down the tempo and mood because hey, it’s 2018. Dillon Francis continues to breathe life into Moombahton on this dark and bumping collabo with Fuego: the hi-hats are hooky enough by themselves but the bari sax instead of a chorus seals the deal for me.”
— Michael Van Pelt, Artists & Repertoire Senior Catalog Manager
Steady Holiday is Dre Babinski, the moniker that encapsulates the nostalgic nature of her work — there’s a kind of beautiful sentimentality that surfaces when listening to Steady Holiday’s music, comparative to watching a Cary Grant film or a warm idyllic memory washing over you.
Growing up, Babinski recalls her father always listening to oldies on the radio. At the time it was something that merely underscored her childhood upbringing it wouldn’t be until later she would translate this environment as a source of inspiration.
“I loved it but I also didn’t question it,” says Babinski. “I began playing the violin at school when I was 10 and started playing along to songs like “Downtown” by Petula Clark or “Crying” by Roy Orbison. When I sit down to write music nowadays, I think I unconsciously come back to the sensibilities of that era.”
While Steady Holiday is Babinski’s solo musical act, the artist is no stranger to a range of collaboration. Having recorded and toured as a violinist and backup vocalist for Dusty Rhodes and the River Band and the other half of Miracle Days’ partnership, Babinski brings her transformative experiences to her arrival as a solo artist.
Perhaps it was this accumulation of experiences that propelled the artist into the solo role she was destined to fulfill — the new venture sparking a new kind of inspiration that isn’t always so easily achievable when working closely with other artists.
In early 2015, Babinski put the wheels in motion by beginning the recording process under Steady Holiday. With the release of her single “Your Version of Me” the artist gained even more momentum through the single’s success — the work receiving praise from both critics and fans alike. By 2016, Steady Holiday released her debut solo album Under The Influence (produced by Gus Seyffert). Described as hauntingly expressive, listeners began crediting the album’s success to Babinski’s vocals, which enlivened the album’s themes and emotional atmosphere.
“Help me I’m a superstar
but narrowly I’ve missed the mark
drifting, fading, no regard
I’ve slipped into a cycle”
“Superstar” is the seventh song on Under The Influence, imparting a message that could very well describe the artist’s artistic journey — there’s a nod here to the range of Babinski’s achievements earned thus far in her musical career, along with identifying her place and status with the release of her debut album.
These personal touches radiate throughout Under The Influence, the melancholic filled verses paired with the stunning string arrangements set the soundscape for Steady Holiday’s emergence into the world. When asked about what she chooses to explore in her writing, she dives deep into the lyrics from the listener’s standpoint.
“I’m always looking to uncover things about myself and universals in human nature,” says Babinski. “Which is an interest much bigger than music but tends to show up in my songs. It helps me make sense of the world and soften to what I don’t understand. I’ve been writing from perspectives other than my own recently, and empathy is the best tool for that.”
With the circulation of Under The Influence, Steady Holiday is soon called to perform at Coachella by the festival’s very own co-founder Paul Tollet. With this caliber of a platform, Babinski boldly begins her new chapter of sharing what was once a private channel of expression to thousands of listeners.
“I want people to have their own experience with my music rather than explain all my intentions,” notes Babinski. “I do hope that it’s inclusive and evocative enough for people to create their own meaning and memories with it, in the same way that Hallelujah wasn’t written for me, but it was.”
In terms of Babinski’s songwriting process, she often draws inspiration from words that resonate with her on a creative level. “Most of my song ideas begin with the stuff that sits on top, the vocal melody and lyrics,” says Babinski. “Usually it’s a phrase I read or overhear that sticks with me then I’ll find a melody that shapes nicely around it.” Such inspiration can strike almost anywhere but Babinski notes it happens commonly when driving or walking about yet hardly ever when sitting down to intentionally write.
This fluidity in her craft, Babinski keeps her process balanced by focusing heavily on where a song’s inspiration goes — spending time on refining an idea, rebuilding it, then deciding if it should be fully fleshed out to be shared with the world.
“Sometimes a complete thought is the result of a lot of conscious work,” says Babinski. “And sometimes it just appears like tethered magic. I never know when or how it’s going to happen.”
Steady Holiday’s music is available for licensing through Marmoset. Listeners can also check out Steady Holiday’s second album Nobody’s Watching, released in 2018 on Barsuk Records. The artist’s second album is a collection of stories that align with recurring themes of fear and greed throughout history — something Babinski notes as a fitting encapsulation of today’s climate.
Mid-century American vocal group, the Five Du-Tones contributed to the evolving r&b decade of the 1950s and early 1960s. The group was comprised of five members, Willie Guest, Robert Hopkins, LeRoy Joyce, Oscar Watson, and James West — all of whom had met and assembled musically together at Patrick Henry High School in Missouri.
At the heart of soul vocal groups’ rising popularity, the Five Du-Tones made a name for themselves upon the release of their hit “Shake a Tail Feather,” which aired frequently on r&b radio stations across the country. The hit notably captures the essence of a time period where music was evolving quickly from the previous decade of late ‘40s jump blues; instead listeners could identify how music was shifting away from improvisation with a cleaner, clearer focus on a song’s composition.
The emergence of r&b being rooted in African American communities, the confident, playful and bouncy tempo of jazz blended into the rise of such r&b groups and later, even shaping the origins of rock & roll. In songs like “Shake a Tail Feather” and “Enjoy Yourself” the instrumentation while isn’t lavish, delivers big with lead and backup vocals. Such examples show the distinct shift in the preceding jazz and blues culture that dominated the 1940s, it’s a jump toward something that feels celebratory, even triumphant.
The soulful tenacity behind such songs sets a scene of a sweaty dancehall with participants moving about to match the music’s contagious rhythms. While “Shake a Tail Feather” made it to the US Billboard r&b chart, it peaked at the #28 ranking while also climbing to the #51 position on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The success of the retro hit prompted the Five Du-Tones to continue creating work that merges complimentary yet varying qualities of soul music and the doo-wop trend.
In 1963, the group released “The Chicken Astronaut,” a song that nods at the decade’s beginning milestones in space exploration, playing into the sub-genre of “space music.”
“You can keep those spaceships and rockets
I'll get around in an automobile
I'm an earth man
I don't wanna be no astronaut”
The song paints a picture of a reluctant space traveler who defiantly wishes to stay within the safety of earth’s atmosphere. Telling of the group’s awareness on the surrounding political climate, the song feels like a playful, artful jab at America’s unfolding political change in the early 1960s.
With the Five Du-Tones immersed in a routine of heavy touring and performing, the exhaustion would eventually catch up to band member, James West, who passed away from heart failure at the young age of 26. The group would continue producing music, including the 7” single “The Gouster” in 1964 — the terms refers to an African-American youth subculture that had emerged from Chicago’s South Side around the time.
Similar to how The Five Du-Tones created content to reflect the dramatic changes behind the U.S. space program, the group continued bringing to life cultural references that inspired them. These kind of objectives proved the group’s strive in creating music that wasn’t merely designed to generate a new dance craze but instead to reflect the pulse of America in the 20th century.
In 1967, The Five Du-Tones disbanded, several group members progressing on to partake in other doo-wop groups like Billy Richard’s Coasters and The Robins. The group’s hit, “Shake a Tail Feather,” would go onto being covered by prestigious artists such as Ray Charges.
The Five Du-Tones’ sonography listed below is available for licensing on Marmoset’s roster. Check out these vintage gems:
Luz Elena Mendoza began Y La Bamba in 2008 — the name not only deviates from the traditional folk dance, La Bamba, it’s reflective of Mendoza’s persona, her identity which proudly entwines with her Mexican roots. Like the traditional folk dance (bambolear, meaning to sway), there’s a distinct kind of movement in the way Luz carries herself even when she’s not on stage performing. This energy could be compared to a quiet but steady undercurrent, a pulse that hums powerfully but only clearly evident to those pausing to listen.
Mendoza’s journey began in a challenging place, an upbringing in a Mexican American household that engulfed her entire existence. Early on, the artist found herself face to face with life decisions many will never have to endure in their lifetime, a survivor who left home early on to explore a musical path. The journey hasn’t been easy for Mendoza, she wears her history, her turmoil, her passion and wisdom on her sleeve, she’s not hiding from her story but she emphasizes its layers. No story is simple.
These personal characteristics roll over into her offerings, music something that fills the many chapters of her adult life. Released in 2016 through Tender Loving Empire, Ojos Del Sol delivered a mixture of her native tongue, Spanish and also English. It’s an album that touches on Catholicism, her parents, and Mexican folk narratives. In “Libre” (translation: free) there’s a meandering, spiritual presence punctuating the song’s mood; a choir builds on Mendoza’s vocals, there’s something imaginative as the lyrics paint a picture of natural elements, animals, dreams and a place where it all comes together.
“I heard a screaming coming straight out
Of the evening
Where all the animals came
Together to have a talk
They spoke to higher places to protect
Of what the claim to stalk and all the
Fruits that they know so well if they
Come or not”
Melodic through and through, the song shifts over to Spanish halfway, the poeticism feels so true to Mendoza, it’s personal and while not hidden, can be easily overlooked if not paying attention.
A translation flows into something that deviates into prayer, it’s a beautiful plea asking for peace for her first mother, then her father, and brothers. This piece of the song is like a suspension in time and emotions, she honors her ties and the blood that connects them together.
These dual complexities run steadily throughout Ojos Del Sol, the good and bad, tribute to both present and past. Listeners will battle with the question of knowing if the artist is acknowledging both sides or if she is stuck in purgatory between the two.
In between Mendoza’s 2016 release of Ojos Del Sol and present time, the artist intentionally seeks and welcomes a healing stage of life. A true empath, Mendoza’s full fledged passion and commitment toward her community — family, friends, fellow artists — has taken a humanistic toll, encouraging her to seek a rebuilding type of solace from the world.
She explains it in the sense of how the barnyard owl exists and its natural function to operate through a streamlined, focused kind of vision. Mendoza relates to this type of controlled attention and how it applies to her need to hone in on certain aspects of her life, keeping the other trials and tribulations of her past at bay. She wants listeners and admirers of Y La Bamba to see this internal battle of not being able to simply “turn off” or practice ignorance to thrive within creativity. Instead, like in Mendoza’s personal experience of inherently adopting others’ emotions so easily, there’s no easy way to dodge such magnetism.
This struggle to be responsible, compassionate but also practicing self-care has been difficult for Mendoza. It’s also why she chooses to create content with true intention, only developing work when she arrives at that recharged pinnacle moment. In this way, she stresses the importance of surrounding herself with friends and colleagues who can support her on this journey.
As someone who takes on others’ experiences, absorbing the weight of their burdens (even if they’re not meaning to share it), this idea of surrounding oneself with advocates for her health is real; this continuous choice of dividing her energy into the right areas isn’t hard to see when talking to her or even when witness to her live performances. When she’s doing a set there’s a gentle forcefulness behind her music, the walls come down and there’s an outpour of the truths she’s carefully brought to the surface.
In recognizing the need for harmony, Mendoza understands how the healing process can powerful when surrounding oneself with fiends ready to step in — to listen or lend a voice when needed. A glimmer of comfort in knowing certain burdens can be shared is enough sometimes — especially as an empath who continuously piles on others’ worries onto her own.
It’s like a balancing act and every day she seeks out the equilibrium to achieve such harmony, her music being its own language that needs no translation to feel if listening with an open heart.
Stay tuned as we announce the release of Y La Bamba’s lastest single next week. Available for listening on Marmoset’s roster.
Embedded in the evolving South American movement, Nicola Cruz delivers music that honors the traditions and cultures of his homeland Ecuador.
There’s a richness to the instrumental choices utilized by the artist, it’s a bold crossover of old and new. Such intended connection between ancestral influences and modern approaches aids Cruz’s mission in existing beyond the fold. While yes, this vein exists in cumbia, the music runs a deep and personal course that when traced together is telling of Cruz’s identity.
Born in Limoges, France to Ecuadorian parents, Cruz was immersed in an enriching musical education. When he eventually convinced his parents to purchase him a drum set at the age of 12, Cruz would begin his exploratory phase through an array of genres. While the work he produces doesn’t come close to the musical category of metal, Cruz began his music career by learning and playing Megadeth covers.
Before casting the cumbia fingerprint onto Cruz’s body of work, one must first look to the shifting and emerging changes occuring in South America’s music scene — the surging nightlife trends and happenings.
“It’s easy to fall into this classification since Cumbia is something that’s so broad, it’s not just music but a complete tradition of dance, history, poetry, geography if you will, that is included in this movement that started in Columbia and spread throughout Latin America,” says Cruz. “I think when people from outside the common Latin American perimeter refer to this music as cumbia, is for lack of a better name, which in a way is acceptable because understanding this context is proper of living in places like this. I would say that what I compose these days leans toward contemporary electronic music, where defying music rules is always present, but that’s always been a part of me — experimentation.”
With Nicola Cruz DJing on an international scale, one need not look far to recognize the ease in which his music translates to non-Spanish speaking audiences.
The success of this kind of international recognition came about from his 2015 release of Prender el Alma, listeners finding diversity and range throughout the album. The electronic downtempo drew together a fanbase eager to see how Cruz would continue developing the Andean musical elements through a modernistic spin. An integral part of Cruz’s signature style is rooted in technology and his embracing of Western influences, it’s proof that honoring the past can simultaneously accompany new invention.
With Cruz experimenting through his music’s compositions, the folkloric sounds merely are one of the many vibrant threads woven into the Ecuadorian artists musical stylings. In “La Cosecha”, Cruz incorporates classic sounds of the acoustic guitar with a drum machine, the complete work sounds like a bright and joyful tribute to something truly profound and sacred.
Looking to Andean cosmology, ‘Cosecha’ refers to a time of harvesting, a period of recognition on what can been extracted from the earth and in turn, a deep appreciation for everything that’s been collected. This sort of homage speaks volumes about Cruz’s intentions to remain rooted in heritage, honoring the history of his ancestors’ stories. And yet, such sincerity and deep reflection doesn’t inflict a barrier. One underlying reason? Cruz knows how to produce compelling music that translates for and beyond the dancefloor.
“I've never felt stuck in a genre or category, it's always about how I feel everyday,” says Cruz. “For instance, I woke up today with “Moon” by Björk in my head so I revisited that. I constantly find myself discovering new songs from the Beatles, those dudes recorded a lot of music back in the day. The Division Bell by Floyd has been another comeback, or the amazing STROOM records from Belgium if I feel for something more sci fi — and don't get me started on modular techno. It's endless really, and so I consider my musical aspirations to be.”
With “Colibria” — the feminine Spanish word for colibrio, an instrument used to record the song — the story unfolds by honoring the concept of mankind’s origins. There’s reference to mother nature, discovering and celebrating the natural elements of this world. Rhythmically Latin through and through, there’s clear conjunction of cutting-edge electronic tempo and indigenous sounds. Songs such as this tie Cruz’s creative creations to this roots while still remaining wildly universally understood.
Cruz is currently working with ZZK Records to produce his new upcoming album. This new body of work is said to emulate a wider perspective of music and a projection of ideas Cruz has been carrying with him since Prender el Alma.