Most end of the year lists suck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in the process of putting together our own “best of” as you read this, but each December we see the exact same thing: dozens of publications all rushing to push out ten pages of clickbait listicles intentionally-ordered to cater debate (and clicks) while simultaneously falling in-line with the broadest most commonly-held opinion. There’s nothing technically wrong with “List Season,” but most of it just comes off as going through the motions, and I believe there’s a better way to reflect what happened over the previous year. That’s why I created The Diamond Platters.
As you can tell by their name, The Diamond Platters are the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an artist. They are an extravagant and one-of-a-kind accolade representative of artistic achievement and abject opulence… Just kidding, this isn’t anything that grandiose.
While the name is poking fun at the seriousness of List Season, The Diamond Platters do serve a purpose: they’re a way to circumvent publishing “just another” end of the year list. This is a look at the past 365 days in music through a unique (and sometimes hyper-specific) lens. These awards allow me to draw attention to releases that may not get discussed on a typical publication’s end of the year list. Most importantly, it’s a way to celebrate the year in music without pitting artists against each other. Unique categories for the unique music listener, because not everything fits into a list of 50.
Best Cover Song
Winner: The Regrettes - “Helpless”
2018 was a great year to be a fan of Hamilton. Not only did the show finally come to my city, but we also got a new one-off single, and to top it all off The Regrettes released their incredible cover of “Helpless.” Like a pop-punk counterpart to The Hamilton Mixtape, The Regrettes took an already goosebump-inducing song and transformed it into an empowering power-chord shred-fest that somehow works just as well as the original.
Runner-up: Phoebe Bridgers - “It’ll All Work Out”
Last year Tom Petty passed on October 2nd. Less than two weeks after his death I caught Phoebe Bridgers live and witnessed as she closed out her set with a heart-rending cover of “It’ll All Work Out.” It nearly broke me. One year later on October 2nd Bridgers re-opened that emotional wound when she released a deluxe edition of her debut album featuring a full-studio rendition of the same cover.
Remake/Rework of the Year
Winner: Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
Remastering an album is one thing. Re-recording an album, amending it, and adding onto it is a different thing entirely. Indie darlings Car Seat Headrest did just that when they revisited their 2011 Bandcamp breakthrough earlier this year. Originally recorded entirely by Will Toledo in Garageband, the 2018 version of Twin Fantasy finds the songs backed by a full band, improved production, and an actual budget. The remake remains faithful its predecessor while simultaneously making just enough new additions to make it feel relevant and fresh, all while retaining the same core message that made the album resonate so deeply seven years ago.
Runner-up: TTNG - Animals Acoustic
Possibly one of the most seminal albums of the entire math rock genre, TTNG’s debut full-length has built quite a reputation for itself over the past ten years. When the band revisited their zoological release in a fully-realized acoustic style this fall, they did so in the most careful, reverent, and precious way possible.
Mini Wheats™Award For Hardest Shit I Experienced All Year
Winner: Denzel Curry - “Sumo”
Cursed with the mixed-blessing of a meme-adjacent hit, “Ultimate” became the standard Denzel Curry was held to for better or worse. While Imperial, 13, and TA13OO prove his artistic talent undeniably, “Sumo” is the sequel to “Ultimate” we’ve all been waiting for. Featuring yelled vocals, blown-out instrumentation, and hard-as-bricks lyrics, “Sumo” will be a staple of the gym playlist for many years to come.
Runner-up: Carnage x Lil Pump - “i Shyne”
Bolstered DJ Carnage’s destructive production, “i Shyne” finds Pump at his most ignorant, shouting boasts over an out-of-control hype-up beat for two and a half minutes.
Winner: Dylan Mattheisen of Tiny Moving Parts
Every once in a while you have someone that just makes your day on social media. Maybe it’s a friend, perhaps it’s a crush, but sometimes it’s a band. When he isn’t singing, shredding, or tapping on his guitar, the frontman of Tiny Moving Parts can be seen smiling across the world and enjoying life on social media. Aside from putting out a new record in 2018, this was also a year of personal progress for Dylan as he shared his weight loss journey with fans in between beaming selfies and adorable musings. Always happy to meet fans at the merch booth after shows, Dylan is a stand-up guy and the definition of a stone-cold chiller.
Runner-up: Caroline Rose of Caroline Rose
Caroline Rose is a special crystal angel full of rainbows and dreams. Whether she’s releasing one of the best sophomore records of 2018, charming viewers with her music videos, or uploading goofy goings-on in her downtime on tour, Caroline’s red-hued antics are a constant social media delight.
Holdin’ It Down: Award for Most-needed Genre Makeover
Winner: Bloodbather & Jesus Piece - Metalcore
While there were undoubtedly some early indicators like Knocked Loose, Code Orange, and END, the metalcore revival has never felt more real than it did in 2018. Between Jesus Piece’s Only Self and Bloodbather’s Pressure, it’s safe to say that the genre is back in safe hands and experiencing and refreshing second wind. May it never truly die.
Runner-up: Shame & Heavy Lungs - Post-punk
Forecasted by the arrival of IDLES’ Brutalism last year, genuine, angry, gray, UK-based Post-punk is back in full-force in 2018. Back in January, England-based Shame kicked off the year with a world-rocking debut album, and more recently the IDLES-adjacent Heavy Lungs released a banger of a single following an angry little EP of political tunes.
“Continental Breakfast” Award For Most Inoffensive Sunday Morning Easy Listen
Winner: Hovvdy - Cranberry
Named after 2017’s collaboration between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, sometimes you just need slow-moving hangover music. While Cranberry is definitively much more than that, their music certainly is easy on the ears.
Runner-up: Yo La Tengo - There’s a Riot Going On
Yo La Tengo’s fifteenth album is a half-ambient relaxing descent into utter bliss. More like a float tank than a collection of songs, There’s a Riot Going On is a wonderful record to throw on in the early hours of a crisp Sunday morning as you contemplate whether or not you want to make eggs.
Most Important Song Of The Year
Winner: Stella Donnelly - “Boys Will Be Boys”
“Boys Will Be Boys” is a song about the aftermath of sexual abuse. Specifically, it finds Donnelly talking to one of her close friends who, after confessing what had happened to her, explains why she’s to blame for her own rape. It’s an exorcism of pain — a condemning piece of art that’s more powerful than anything I’ve taken in this year, music or otherwise.
Runner-up: Field Medic - “Let Freedom Ring 2”
If you were to ask Field Medic why he recorded a sequel to “Let Freedom Ring” he may tell you he had to. He may tell you it was an exercise. He may tell you it was a way to air his grievances and get his thoughts out into the world. Whatever the case, “Let Freedom Ring 2” is a raw, honest, and transparent assessment of where America is in 2018. It’s a middle-finger-adorned callout as much as it is a plea for sensibility… and we’re at the point where even that would go a long way.
Most Fabulous Christmas Bop
Winner: Sufjan Stevens - “Lonely Man of Winter”
Having launched, organized, and ran a Sufjan Christmas blog this December, the back half of my year has been absolutely dominated by Sufjan’s Christmas music. While I gave his 100 Christmas tracks dozens of spins as I usually do, this season felt extra special when fans received a long-obscured loosie from the days of Christmases past. Crisp, cold, and frigid, “Lonely Man of Winter” is a realist Christmas song about feeling a distinct lack of jolliness during a season where that seems to be a requirement.
Runner-up: August Burns Red - “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”
August Burns Red may have released a highly-influential metalcore album early in their career, but their vast body of Christmas work has always been a personal favorite of mine. Needless to say, when we got a six-song EP of holiday tunes earlier this season, it practically made my year. Hearing lead guitarist JB Brubaker shred out the melody to “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” was exactly what I needed to ignite my Christmas spirit.
Best Cover Art
Winner: SOPHIE - Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides
Shiny, soft, synthetic, glossy, reflective, and smooth are just a handful of the adjectives that come to mind when one finds themselves face to face with the cover to SOPHIE’s debut record. Turns out these words also accurately describe the futuristic dance music contained just behind this cover, all while taking the viewer by surprise and making them want to know more. In other words, it does everything an album cover is designed to do.
Runner-up: Nas - Nasir
An image of five black children lined up against a wall with their hands up in the air says more than I ever could, and almost says more than Nasir does in its 26-minute running time.
Winner: Kanye West - “Lift Yourself”
In the confusing lead-up to Kanye West’s eighth album, anything could have happened. While the aftermath left me and many other fans deeply-conflicted, pretty much every Kanye fan could agree on one thing: “Lift Yourself” was a masterstroke. Clocking in at two and a half minutes, the song was uploaded to Kanye’s site late on a late May evening. Like most fans, I clicked play, vibed out to the classic Kanye soul chop, and then proceeded to bust out laughing when he starts aggressively scatting. I can’t think of any other moment this year that evoked such a strong reaction from me, and for that, I must commend Mr. West.
Runner-up: Future - “King’s Dead”
Picture this: you’re listening to the newest Jay Rock song. It features Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake. You’re taken aback by the song’s rapid-fire bars and powerful beat. Then halfway through, the instrumental pauses and Future busts out a raspy ode to Slick Rick and Juicy J’s with the line “La di da di da / slob on me knob.” You are shocked. You try to brush it off, but you keep coming back to it. What was once an off-putting and perplexing yelp soon becomes something so stupid it’s catchy. You can’t help but love it. That’s how I feel about “King’s Dead.”
Live Album of the Year
Winner: The National - Boxer Live in Brussels
Often cited as one of their best records, The National’s performance of their 2007 record is everything a live album should be. Bearing faithful renditions of their wine-drunk songs, the band also manages to inject some moments of surprise into this recording. Whether it’s a vibrant horn break on “Slow Show” or a series of distressed guitar solos leading up to a frantic yelp of a chorus on “Squalor Victoria,” the band was able to breathe new life into these classic indie songs. Plus, with engaging crowd responses throughout, and just the right amount of banter, Boxer Live in Brussels is proof that, much like a fine wine, The National are only getting better with age.
Runner-up: Mac Miller - Tiny Desk Concert
While it’s only three songs long, Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk Concert remains one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen all year. Released just one month before his passing, this video became one of Miller’s final moments in the public eye. Fortunately crystalized on film for the rest of time, the video is a 17-minute encapsulation of the type of soul, charm, and artistry he was possible of.
Porch Beer Album of the Year
Winner: Bonny Doon - Longwave
Sometimes you hear an album that jangles just in the right way. That kicks up just enough dust and casts just enough of an amber-coated summer breeze. A record where the drums are light, the vocals are relaxing, and the bass is played just in the pocket. The kind of music that you can close your eyes, sip your beer, nod along, and enjoy the absence of worry. That’s Longwave.
Runner-up: Nap Eyes - I’m Bad Now
Practically punk compared to Bonny Doon, Nap Eyes’ third record I’m Bad Now is a lovely and light-colored Lou Reed-esque jaunt that’s as pleasing and flavorful as it is relaxing.
One for the Streets
Winner: Young Dolph - Role Model
At the end of the day sometimes you just need to turn your brain off. There’s no need high-minded metaphors or far-reaching artistic goals, and luckily Young Dolph is striving for neither of those on Role Model. Featuring some of the most audacious, enigmatic, and hilarious bars I’ve heard all year, Dolph’s fifth studio album is 44-minutes of braggadocio, all delivered at a shockingly-consistent quality. Everything’s a banger, and we’re all better off for it.
Runner-up: Sheck Wes - MUDBOY
Outside of Playboi Carti, it’s hard to think of a single artist who pervaded the hyped-up online sphere more than Sheck Wes. While his popularity had been brewing up for some time now, a Travis Scott co-sign, Drake name-drop, and perfectly-timed album release all converged into the perfect storm of hype and success.
Best Album From Last Year That Took Until 2018 To Discover
Winner: Field Medic - Songs From the Sunroom
Earlier this year I discovered Field Medic through a stroke of Spotify luck and almost immediately turned around a short review gushing about his poetic folk music. The album has been a constant companion of mine throughout the year, and my discovery felt affirmed when I saved Field’s hat during a Remo Drive mosh pit over the summer. Clever, romantic, and emotionally-raw, Songs From The Sunroom is a lovely and personable release that’s as charming as it is inventive.
Round-up: Surf Curse - Nothing Yet
The modern surf rock scene walks an intoxicating mix of fast-paced aggression and laid-back good nature. While it may sound contradictory, this balancing act is a feat clearly mastered by Surf Curse on their sophomore album which also happened to be the soundtrack to my summer this year.
Best Music Video
Winner: Childish Gambino - “This Is America”
This is America, and it’s terrible. After producing a transformative funk album in 2016, Donald Glover returned to rap with one of this year’s most impactful singles. “This Is America” has a lot on its mind: gun violence, police abuse, and institutionalized racism are all tackled in the space of four minutes. Not only does Glover eloquently address all those topics, he also managed to deliver this message over a beat that bangs so hard the song’s both catchy and accessible. The music video itself is a striking, twisted, and hypnotic bit of long-shot cinematography that half a billion viewers found impossible to look away from… much like America.
Runner-up: Charli XCX - “1999”
We have to go back. Not to do anything different, but just to enjoy it all again. On this nostalgic bop, the underground pop queen teams up with Troye Sivan to recreate some of the 90’s most iconic moments. From Matrix dodges to Skechers advertisements, the mix of wistfulness, commitment, and innovation is simply too impressive to ignore.
“It Me” Award For Verbose And Awkward Lyrics That Most Closely Mirror My Internal Monologue
Winner: Retirement Party - Somewhat Literate
There’s something to be said for representation in music — representation not just in race, gender, religion, or culture, but in thought and personality. Even upon my first listen, I could tell that Somewhat Literate was the most I’d identified with a lyricist in some time. Opening and closing with the airing of her own hypochondriac-fuelled grievances, lead singer Avery Springer spends the rest of the record weaving nervous stream-of-conscious tales fraught with overthinking, awkwardness, and self-deprecation. In short, it feels like someone took my brain and transposed it onto jittery garage-filtered pop-punk.
Runner-up: Illuminati Hotties - Kiss Your Frenemies
Much like Retirement Party, Illuminati Hotties’ debut album represents a similar verbose and overwrought self-criticism. With songs about doughnut dates and searching for a fourth job to pay off her college debt, Sarah Tundzen was able to capture the average Millenial’s quarter-life-crisis with depressing accuracy.
Winner: Tyler, The Creator - Various Loosies
If nothing else, Tyler wins this one for the sheer amount of freestyles he gifted fans this year. Most of them under two minutes long, the ex-figurehead of Odd Future released somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen freestyles this calendar year alone. While not all of them wound up on the major streaming sites, tracks like “Okra” and “435” alone should prove Tyler’s proficiency as a freestyle titan.
Runner-up: Saba - “Nice For What Freestyle”
While I found myself extremely disappointed with Drake’s Scorpion, I was glad that someone took the time to salvage the album’s best beat and transform it into something with a little more substance.
Winner: Tay Keith
I’m not going to pretend I was up on Tay Keith before “Look Alive,” but unless you’re big into Southern hip-hop, it’s likely that 2018 was the first time you heard his iconic producer tag. While some deride Tay Keith for making the same type of beat over and over again, he’s seemingly produced hundreds of songs this year alone, and there’s something to be said for respecting the hustle.
Runner-up: Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves has been making country music for over a decade at the time of writing, so it’s hard to call her an undiscovered force in the country scene, but Golden Hour sparked conversations across the music sphere when it became a certified crossover success. Balancing at the perfect intersection of country, pop, and indie, Musgraves proved that you don’t have to relegate yourself to one lane.
Song of the Year
Winner: Saba - “PROM / KING”
“PROM / KING” is a seven-and-a-half-minute two-part hip-hop epic that packs as much personality, story-telling, and raw honesty as the entirety of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The first half of the song finds a sixteen-year-old Saba reconnecting with his estranged cousin Walter back in high school. Saba recounts his traumatic prom night experience over a woozy Chicago jazz beat for three minutes until exactly halfway through the song when everything stops. There’s a brief moment of silence, and then the song explodes into a new pattern now propelled by a bombastic drum beat. From there, time flashes forward to 2017 as Saba paints a picture of his first successes as a musician and his growing bond with Walt. As the instrumental grows faster Saba’s flow increases and you get the feeling of an inescapable danger. Eventually the story unfolds, Walt is involved in a fatal stabbing, and Chicago claims another life. As the beat gets faster, so do Saba’s bars. He eventually raps until he’s out of breath, seemingly collapsing from exhaustion, but then making way for a posthumous outro sung by Walter himself. It’s harrowing, beautiful, and painful all at once. In a year where hip-hop was largely dominated by lyrics about money, women, and opulent flexes, it’s refreshing to hear a song with a message and a story. “PROM/KING” is an artistic achievement. A feat. A warning. A memorial.
Runner-up: Mac Miller - “2009”
For one month “2009” was a poignant reflection on nostalgia, addiction, and innocence lost. Then Mac Miller died, and all of those feelings became amplified ten-fold. With his passing, an already-great track became the penultimate swan song of an artist we lost just as he was reaching his prime. It makes you equal parts heartbroken and thankful to have shared the world with such an incredible artist.
Most Anticipated Project of 2019
Winner: Angel Olsen
Angel Olsen’s 2016 record My Woman opened up my world musically and philosophically. While last year’s b-sides collection temporarily satiated my hunger for more Olsen, I absolutely cannot wait to see what she’s been cooking up for us over the last two years.
The Dream Is Over was one of those rare records that was so good it crossed musical boundaries. From indieheads to emo boys to hardcore punks, there seemed to be nothing but praise for the Canadian group’s sophomore effort. With tracking finished back in May, we should be on the receiving end of some heart-rending thrashy punk rock any day now.