We’ve made this argument before, but we’ll say it again for good measure: Texans produce some of the richest, most diverse music in the world. Need proof (and, again, we’ve offered plenty of it through the years)? Look at 2018. Texas musicians gave us the twang of country, the thump of 808s, the thrill of intricate brass arrangements, all produced by a diverse range of talent from across our fine state.
The music-minded writers and editors at Texas Monthly put our heads together to come up with some of our favorite tracks from last year, and it’s a list that we know we’ll return to even as exciting new albums drop in 2019. Here are our fifteen favorites.
15. Khruangbin, “Cómo Me Quieres”
The three Houstonians behind Khruangbin told us in February that they are inspired by Thai funk, but the fret-hopping guitar licks of the instrumental “Cómo Me Quieres” have clear, wistful Latin roots.
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14. “Louder Than a Bomb,” Brownout
. . . and speaking of instrumental songs with Latin roots, Brownout’s “Louder Than a Bomb” made for one of the more unlikely covers we’ve heard. The side project of Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma put their gritty funk to work interpreting Public Enemy’s oeuvre.
13. “Candy,” Molly Burch
Austin transplant Molly Burch’s second album was stuffed with addicting vintage pop cuts, but none sweeter than “Candy.” Come for the bright, earworm chorus, stay for Burch’s steady, lilting jazz vocals.
12. “Total Football,” Parquet Courts
We’ve been trying to get this bass line out of our heads all year. It didn’t work.
11. “Gone Away,” Bun B (featuring Gary Clark Jr. and Leon Bridges)
The honorary mayor of Houston and reigning king of Texas rap teamed up with Gary Clark Jr. and Leon Bridges for a few cuts this year. This mournful, blues-tinged cut was our favorite, and we’re rooting for more collaborations of this supergroup in 2019.
10. “Leave It Alone,” Amanda Shires
Amanda Shires released what we estimate is one of the most underrated albums of 2018, one packed with songwriting that stretched her beyond her Americana roots. “Leave It Alone” is a dreamy, pulsing thrill that nudges her into pop territory without the Swiftification.
9. “Vertigo,” Khalid
Khalid’s Suncity was a love letter to his adopted hometown of El Paso. And though we loved all of the nods to our westernmost city, our favorite track from the EP had more universal appeal. A string-laden ode to resilience, “Vertigo” was a reflective, lovely turn that, now that we think of it, pairs well with a burning El Paso sunset.
8. “Don’t Move Back to LA,” Okkervil River
Okkervil River brain trust Will Sheff has decamped to New York, but he’ll always be an Austinite to us. His track about the comparative merits of coastal cities features slick harmonies and bluesy guitar, all guided by Sheff’s conversational vocal style.
7. “My Way,” Willie Nelson
The Red-headed Stranger covering Ol’ Blue Eyes? Yes, please. Of all of the covers on Willie Nelson’s tribute to Frank Sinatra, “My Way” stood out the most. Its stripped-down approach felt true to the source material but also distinctly in the style of its interpreter. And we can’t think of anyone who has done it his way more than Willie.
6. “Got My Name Changed Back,” Pistol Annies
There have been plenty of songs about the messy heartbreak of divorce, but the Pistol Annies—a side project that involves Lindale native Miranda Lambert—are having none of ’em. With infectious call-and-response choruses and subtly biting lyrics (“It takes a judge to get married, takes a judge to get divorced / Well, the last couple years, spent a lot of time in court”), the Pistol Annies have taken a typically unpleasant topic and turned it into an anthem of female empowerment.
5. “Nice,” The Carters
Queen Bey is back, this time with her king. The Carters teamed up with super producer Pharrell Williams for “Nice,” a grinding power anthem. Beyoncé switches between her typical impressive vocal trills and rapping that rivals her husband’s flow.
4. “Bad Bad News,” Leon Bridges
You could make an entire separate best-of list with Leon Bridges’s sophomore album, Good Thing, but the jazz bass lines and warm brass section in “Bad Bad News” made it stand out. Bridges’s smooth voice is sure and full, blending perfectly with the vintage pop base.
3. “Kids These Days,” Shakey Graves
The bright chugging guitars and glittery production of “Kids These Days” are a far cry from the minimalist acoustic pickings that established Alejandro Rose-Garcia as Shakey Graves, but he’s pulled off the sonic shift seamlessly. The ode to a youthful feeling of invincibility is a shot of nineties nostalgia.
2. “Sicko Mode,” Travis Scott
It’s fitting that the most prominent cut from Travis Scott’s Astroworld—named after the defunct theme park in his hometown of Houston—is an absolute roller coaster. Just when you think you understand the direction it’s taking, it bucks you off its path. It zooms from carnival-esque synth distortions to scuzzy bass beats with chopped and screwed flourishes to a persistent, frenetic closer. It’s one of the strangest mainstream rap songs we’ve ever heard, and Scott pulls it off with an effortless cool.
1. “Slow Burn,” Kacey Musgraves
Every single person polled for this 2018 best-of list had a Kacey Musgraves song in their picks, and nearly all of them singled out “Slow Burn.” The opener for 2018’s Golden Hour welcomed us with its bright simplicity, captivated us with its gradual and intentional build of layers, stuck with us for its poignant yet irreverent lyrics (“Born in a hurry / Always late / Haven’t been early since ’88”). It’s no secret that we’re Musgraves fans, but this song—more than any of her other work—continues to stun us with its beauty just as much as it did the first time we heard it.