As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the wild ride and whirlwind that was 2018. For this year’s Live For Live Music Staff Picks, we’ll be reliving some of our favorite musical moments, events, and releases of the past year. Today, we’re revisiting our staff’s favorite albums of 2018. Enjoy!

Anderson .Paak – Oxnard

Multi-talented west coast hip-hop artist Anderson .Paak released his highly anticipated new studio album, Oxnard, in November via Aftermath/12 Tone Music Group/Atlantic Records. The follow-up to 2016’s multi-Grammy-nominated Malibu, the fourteen-track record marks Anderson .Paak’s first LP on Aftermath Entertainment, the imprint founded by Oxnard‘s executive producer, Dr. Dre.

Anderson .Paak worked with Dre on the entirety of the project, bringing in an insane group of guests to collaborate on the record including rappers Kendrick Lamar (the collaboration earned a Grammy nomination for ‘Best Rap Performance’), Pusha-T, J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, Q-Tip, and BJ the Chicago Kid, as well as vocalists Kadhja Bonet, Norelle, Cocoa Sarai, and more. MF DOOM and Freddie Gibbs producer Madlib also participated in the production of the album. Listen to Anderson .Paak’s Oxnard here.

Marcus King Band – Carolina Confessions

The Marcus King Band released their most recent album, Carolina Confessions, in October. Produced by Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson), the album showcases the 22-year-old frontman’s maturation as a songwriter, as King takes writing credit on all ten tracks, in addition to on one co-written with The Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach.

“What’s really different about this record is the fact that the songs weren’t road tested before we cut them,” King told L4LM in a recent interview. “For Carolina Confessions, I wanted all the songs to be conceived right there in the studio, so that when we played them live we’d be able to approach them from completely different directions.”

Considering Marcus King’s soulful and emotive vocals, some may be surprised to learn that the frontman never intended to be a singer. However, anyone that knows King personally or professionally wouldn’t be shocked to hear that his ambition to bring ever more to the table as an artist is what drives him. “What I wanted to do with this record was show the other side of who I am, which is a writer,” Marcus confided to L4LM. “I wanted to show that writing could be one of my strong suits and that I was more than just a singer or just a guitar player.”

“This is the first record where I also really felt like a vocalist,” he confessed. “My first two albums, I felt like a guitar player that was singing almost out of necessity because no one else was going to do it. Carolina Confessions is the first album where I feel like my playing, my singing and my songwriting are all on the same level playing field.” Listen to Marcus King Band’s Carolina Confessions here.

Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo

Khruangbin has been blowing up as of late, with the Texas trio gaining national recognition for their melodic, fun, and funk-driven tunes. Featuring Laura Lee on bass, Mark Speer on guitar, and Donald Johnson on drums, the trio is deeply psychedelic and draws from 1960’s Thai funk.

In January, the band released their second full-length album, Con Todo El Mundo, via Dead Oceans. Following 2015’s The Universe Smiles Upon You, the group cemented their place in our hearts with another worldly release that puts forth some of the greatest, most chilled-out grooves of the year.

Since releasing Con Todo El Mundo, the band has gone on its own headlining tour, while also touring in support of Leon Bridges, and, in 2019, will perform one show with Trey Anastasio’s newest band, Ghosts of the Forest.

The Wood Brothers – One Drop Of Truth

The Wood Brothers released their new album, One Drop of Truth, back in February via Honey Jar/Thirty Tigers. The ten-track collection marks the trio’s sixth record to date, and was self-produced by bandmates and brothers Oliver and Chris Wood as well as Jano Rix. The album has been nominated for ‘Best Americana Album’ in the 2018 Grammy Awards.

EXCLUSIVE: Oliver Wood Talks New Album, Storytelling, & The Wood Brothers’ Origins

Building off the success of their previous studio album, 2015’s Paradise, and 2017’s live release, Live At the Barn, recorded at Levon Helm‘s barn, The Wood Brothers found themselves at a fortuitous crossroads. Following a tour with Tedeschi Trucks Band, high profile festival dates and sold out headline shows, the band felt free from the cyclical album release, tour, write, record and do-it-all-over-again pressures.

With all three members living in Nashville, they were afforded easy access to each other as well as a wealth of local independent studios at their disposal. This allowed them to start work on the album in January of 2017 with a new approach.

“Instead of going into one studio and recording it all at the same time, we picked a couple studios, and started to experiment,” said Chris Wood in a press release about the album. “Sometimes we’d just make demos of songs to see if we got anything we liked. There was no pressure, and that really freed us up. We just did one or two songs a day, put it aside, let the songs simmer, and then we’d have a fresh perspective on what was working or not working. You need time to go by to gain objectivity.”

The band extended this approach to the mixing process, sending tracks to four different mixing engineers, each selected based on what the song demanded. Scotty Hard (who’s worked extensively with Medeski Martin & Wood, among others) was recruited for the “edgier, funkier tunes,” “Sky High” and “Happiness Jones.” Mike Poole (who worked on The Wood Brothers album ‘The Muse’) mixed “Sparkling Wine” and “Strange As It Seems.” Their old friend Brandon Belle from Zac Brown’s Southern Ground studio took on “Laughin’ Or Crying”. The remainder of the album was mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Trina Shoemaker, especially sought after by The Wood Brothers for her work with Brandi Carlile. Listen to The Wood Brothers’ ‘One Drop of Truth’ here.

Aqueous – Color Wheel

Buffalo-based groove rock quartet Aqueous released their newest studio album, Color Wheel, back in October. The new album, the band’s first full-length studio effort since 2014’s Cycles, was recorded at Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac‘s GCR Audio in Buffalo, NY, the band’s hometown, and was released in three parts. The band explores hip-hop, progressive rock, and jazz influences in this newest release, which features a collaboration with the Turkuaz Horns on “Weight Of The Word”, a song we’ve seen in Aqueous’ live rotation.

“The general concept was kind of a critique or analysis of our habits as humans with the Internet right now,” guitarist Mike Gantzer shared in a recent interview with Billboard. “For me, a color wheel represents a palette of emotions. So we were looking at how we present this perfect version of ourselves on the Internet; We set out to make a cookie cutter version of our life that’s really idealized, but that does not represent at all the emotional complexities of a person’s life – the color wheel of different emotions.”

The record was written and produced by the band, but this time they took a new approach – “Seventy percent of the songs were written weeks or even days before we went into the studio, so there weren’t many preconceived notions going in this time, which made it pretty exciting,” added Gantzer, making the album their freshest material to date. Listen to Aqueous’ Color Wheel here.

Honorable mentions, based off the results from our recent reader poll, include Circles Around The Sun‘s Let It Wander, David Byrne‘s American Utopia, LotusFrames Per Second, Mac Miller‘s Swimming, Mungion‘s Ferris Wheel’s Day Off, Turkuaz‘s Life In The City, Umphrey’s McGee‘s It’s Not Us and It’s You, and Vulfpeck‘s Hill Climber.