Favorite Albums of the Year (2018)

I sat down to write a top 10 list and came up with 200 albums. I got honest and maybe even cruel, and cut it down to 68. The numeric order gets more arbitrary as we proceed downward. I’m publishing this before I change my mind.

Has music writing turned into mere list-making? For me it sometimes has. I’ve written brilliant descriptions in my mind of why each of these are my favorites, but all I’ve managed are a few words describing each of the top 10.

I wrote very little about music in 2018. What’s the right metaphor for keeping up with all of the brilliant new music released every week, and then finding enough minutes to stop and write about it along the way? Something about a river or a waterfall, in a barrel or holding onto a twig. Or maybe it involves lava, a boiling pot, some other scientific phenomena? Rocks and hills? Weather? Traffic? Somebody find me the right words… (a mantra for 2018). Time marches on, there’s always next year, etc.

  1. Dear Nora – Skulls Example – Career-defining, and a brave step forward; projecting all of the environmental and social anxieties of the moment into a nexus of Southwest mysticism and bubblegum pop.
  2. Makaya McCraven – Universal Beings – Drummer-driven, like much of the best jazz and experimental music this year. But also collaborative and freeform; each of four sides connecting multiple cities, players and dynamic jazz scenes to build new connections and creations.
  3. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour – Country-pop taken in a sunlit, daydream, philosophical quandary direction. Filled with clever turns and breathtaking moments; it is possible still for an album to keep surprising.
  4. Rico Nasty – Nasty – A somewhat goofy Internet rapper transforms herself into the hardest and on-point rapper of the moment, projecting anger, humor, style and multiplicity.
  5. Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism – The best work of music criticism of the year, and non-stop pleasure to listen to. Recommended if you like ‘80s/’90s R&B, or have forgotten about it and need to go back.
  6. The Beths – Future Me Hates Me – Punkish pop-rock with a ‘90s sheen that nonetheless totally inhabits the current moment, via sharp-as-nails songwriting and self-deprecating humor that rides an amped-up guitar-pop wave like nobody’s business.
  7. Caitlyn Smith – Starfire – An accomplished songwriter steps into the spotlight, and dazzles, with show-stopping highway ballads and small-scale Waits/Hopper-esque scenes.
  8. SOB x RBE – Gangin II – The big splash from this youthful, hyper SoCal group began last year but picked up steadily in 2018, with the explosive Gangin’ and their Black Panther track “Paramedic!” Gangin II took all the fire of its predecessors and deepened the emotions and overall feel.
  9. Swamp Dogg – Love, Loss & Auto-Tune – Extending the Autotune-as-emotional-moisturizer approach of 808s and Heartbreak into every neck of the woods has become the life calling of Justin Vernon; here the eccentric soul legend Swamp Dogg wears that Autotune aesthetic remarkably well, through ‘futurized’ standards and more typical Swamp Dogg hijinks.
  10. Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread – Michael Nau & the Mighty Thread – The most tender rolling Americana melodicism of the year – lush and lovely in its melancholy exploration of wandering desert balladry.
  11. Ashley Monroe – Sparrow
  12. Peluché – Unforgettable
  13. Roy Kinsey – Blackie
  14. Arp – Zebra
  15. Boys – Rest in Peace
  16. Kamaal Williams – The Return
  17. Body/Head – The Switch
  18. Trouble and Mike Will Made-It – Edgewood
  19. Domineco Lancellotti – The Good Is a Big God
  20. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile
  21. Nathan Bowles – Plainly Mistaken
  22. Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
  23. Maisha – There Is a Place
  24. Tove Styrke – Sway
  25. Clay Hips – Happily Ever After
  26. CupcakKe – Ephorize
  27. Jerry David DeCicca – Time the Teacher
  28. Beach House – 7
  29. Dorian Concept – The Nature of Imitation
  30. Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel
  31. Noname – Room 25
  32. The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking
  33. Jennifer Castle – Angels of Death
  34. Fred Thomas – Aftering
  35. Tres Oui – Poised to Flourish
  36. Of Montreal – White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood
  37. Booker Stardrum – Temporary, etc.
  38. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
  39. Jonathan Richman – SA
  40. Migos – Culture II
  41. Drinks – Hippo Lite
  42. Chloe x Halle – The Kids Are Alright
  43. Massage – Oh Boy
  44. Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore – Ghost Forests
  45. Serpentwithfeet – Soil Reprise
  46. DJ Muggs X Roc Marciano – Kaos
  47. Jack Hayter – Abbey Wood
  48. Chris Crofton – Hello It’s Me
  49. Say Sue Me – Where We Were Together
  50. Pete Astor – One for the Ghost
  51. Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On
  52. Low – Double Negative
  53. Tunde Olaniran – Stranger
  54. The Ocean Party – The Oddfellows’ Hall
  55. Cloud – Plays With Fire
  56. Jay Rock – Redemption
  57. Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound
  58. Slim Jxmi – Jxmtro
  59. Frankie Cosmos – Vessel
  60. FaceFace – MMmm
  61. Anna Burch – Quit the Curse
  62. Benjamin Shaw – Megadead
  63. The Spook School – Could It Be Different?
  64. Smokescreens – Used to Yesterday
  65. Laura Gibson – Goners
  66. Sarah Davachi – Let Night Come On Bells End The Day
  67. Yhung T.O. – Trust Issues
  68. Landing – Bells in New Towns

Happy new year! Yours truly,

Dave

Azure Blue, “Fast Falls the Eventide”

The title, alluding to the hymn “Abide With Me”, is a description of darkness arriving. Surely it feels like darkness has arrived these days. Azure Blue’s answer to the surrounding darkness is to bask in luxurious layers of synthesizers. I’m not sure it’s an escape. By the second track “New Moon” it feels more like standing strongly upright within the current and refusing to be pulled along.

Tobias Isaksson — of phenomenal Swedish-pop outfits from days gone past like Irene and Laurel Music — has led Azure Blue through three previous albums of romantic synth-pop. This fourth album is especially reliant on synths, in a bright, welcoming way that makes the neon art of the cover feel appropriate.

The songs are sullen, heartsick and defiant. “Post Affect”, one song is titled. This immersion in ’80s-style synth-pop isn’t a pose. Isaksson is fully devoted to the style and the sentiments it perhaps naturally pairs with – love, dreams, sensitivity, romantic obsession.

“Whatever ’18” might sound like a slacker title, but it’s a commitment. The mantra (sung at least 10 times) “I don’t care / I do what I want to / as much as I want / whenever I want to” is a declaration of independence that pairs nicely with the next song “Beneath the Sphere”, a dancefloor tribute to standing up for yourself. By the end of the album he’s dreaming off into the darkness, or perhaps the light. Dreaming idealistically of what’s next, even when holding the object of his dreams firmly within his arms.

( http://matineerecordings.com/item.php?item_id=280)

 

The Beths, “Future Me Hates Me”

Her future self may hate her, but her present self doesn’t think that highly about her either. On the debut album by the Auckland, New Zealand band The Beths, Future Me Hates Me, singer Elizabeth Stokes persistently voices self-doubt and disappointment within a climate of punchy pop-punk that’s inescapably “’90s alternative” but nonetheless has an of-the-moment immediacy. That comes from the melodies but mainly her singing, channeling lots of emotions within an overriding one of melancholy.

There’s self-destructive partying (“Uptown Girl”, not the Billy Joel song), multi-varied lust (“Little Death”, a mid-album stretch-out), and driving off a cliff in a failed double-suicide as the inevitable response to heartbreak (“Whatever”). For every song propelling towards destruction there’s one where joy is trying hard to poke its way to the surface. There’s tenderness, always, in the sulking, the hatred, and the instinctual drive towards “stupid mistakes”.

“You wouldn’t like me if you saw what was inside me”, she sings early on, but this is a very, very likable deep-dive into frustration and desperation. The last track “Less Than Thou” explodes – a soft but boisterous release.

(http://carparkrecords.com/artists/the-beths/)