2018 was the year of the non-consensus. Publications and blogs were all over the place in their choices for album of the year, which I think is a good thing and indexes a healthy music ecosystem. But for me, personally, there was no doubt in my mind. I knew my favorite album of 2018 the first time I heard it. Until I worked in music, I’d often been stingy toward country music. Despite having lived in the South my whole life, I hated the small-town tropes, weepy twang, and songs about beer and trucks. But Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour showed me country is so much more than that. Her crossover appeal is strong, somehow having found favor with pop fans, snobby hipsters, and even the LGBT community (she recently appeared on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars). So, in Golden Hour, I discovered not only my new favorite record, but also an entirely new genre. Musgraves, with her genius wordplay, sun-soaked production, and disco leanings, showed me that country music isn’t at all what I thought. Thanks to her, I’m now a proud fan of Margo Price, the Pistol Annies, and so many other progressive country women, and I’ve even learned to embrace the classics, too, like Dolly and Loretta. There’s a whole lot of room in my heart for Sturgill and Jason, too, and 2018 was the year that showed me everything country is and can be. I owe it all to Kacey. Golden Hour made a country convert out of me, and for that, I’m forever thankful.
— Ellen Johnson
Same Trailer Different Park: weed
Pageant Material: whiskey
A Very Kacey Christmas: eggnog, but not enough
Golden Hour: acid
She can keep it up so long as she skips heroin. Nobody wants to hear: “Livin’ on a hope and a prayer/Sitting shootin’ dope in my granddaddy’s chair.
— Nick Farruggia
In the year when plenty of country younguns, including Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, drifted into pop, 2018’s best crossover effort belongs to Kacey Musgraves. Her country twang marries just as well to ballads as it does to disco beats. It’s a pleasant stroll through the county fair…while you’re on acid.
— Trevor Anderson
What’s most irresistible about the album it its Daft Punkness. Nearly two decades after Faith Hill went a little Cher on “The Way You Love Me,” country’s gradual embrace of EDM and hip-hop production tropes has proceeded in fits and starts (rest in peace, Avicii). But Musgraves and her ace team of Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk offered a fully realized collection of from-the-ground-up electro-twang gems, with everything from banjos that sound like they’re played at the bottom of a ravine to synths that squeal with delight. I needed this album this year.
— Chris Molanphy
The whole album’s great, but with “Space Cowboy,” Musgraves reinvented her genre as coolly as someone exhaling cannabis mist from a vape pen.
— Ann Powers
This doesn’t sound much like a country album to me, apart from the banjo played on almost all its songs. As of the time I write this, Golden Hour has only sold 120,000 copies, but it’s reached an audience that rarely listens to mainstream country music. But genre tags don’t matter much. Musgraves expresses a fairly unique perspective: She’s full of an innocent, frequently stoned wonder that’s fully capable of recognizing toxic men and telling them to fuck off out of her life.
— Steve Erickson
Because in the Trump era, the YUGE-est recording should be from a female country singer on acid.
— Steve Forstneger
Country meets Lite FM for the most earnest, heartwarming, and cohesive album of the year. Should win the top prize at the Grammys.
Country pop taken in a sunlit, daydream, philosophical direction. Filled with clever turns and breathtaking moments; it is possible still for an album to keep surprising.
— Dave Heaton
A chill ride where Musgraves celebrates the glow of her marriage, the magic of nature, and the general joys of life.
— Paul Robicheau
Our baby boy was born in early 2018. Through much trial and error, it became clear that Golden Hour was the wee lad’s car seat soundtrack of choice. I cherish Spacey Kacey for her infant-soothing properties as much as for her innovative, clear-eyed take on contempo-country.
— Gabe Vodicka
From the electropop of “High Horse” to the rustic psychedelia of “Slow Burn” to the stadium tour with Harry Styles, Musgraves’s creative risks rankled purists, but the CMA award for Album of the Year confirms that her resemblance to the genre-spanning Bobbie Gentry is more than just skin deep.
— Kathy Fennessy
Musgraves expanded her sound — and her mind — with the psychedelic country stylings of her fourth LP. Her accomplished songwriting continues to improve, too, from the hoedown funk of “High Horse” to the twangy strut of “Butterflies.”
— Eric Renner Brown
It took Kacey Musgraves’s CMA Awards performance of “Slow Burn,” in November, to open this record up for me beyond the “country for people who don’t like country” bullshit hype. And I’m glad it finally happened, because, goddamn, the songwriting here. And — much less credited, but no less deserving — her singing! The epitome of gorgeous.
— Thomas Inskeep