Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Best Albums of 2018 as we see them...

Once again, another year is nearing the end, and it's time for our yearly review of what we found riveting in the world of music.  What a weird year it has been.  So much good music has been released, and yet, music seems so fractured now and the variety is so huge, there is really no way to cover all worthy titles in one simple list.  The following is not necessarily the albums we loved the most in 2018 (although we did love or at least like many of them), but they are the ones that impressed us to the point that we were moved in some way to promote or discuss them with other music fans.

So here is our list of Best Albums of 2018.  Please be kind if we omitted one of your favorites.  It was hard to remember everything...

1)  THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE QUEEN--Merrie Land

Merrie Land

Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) joins back up with Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve), and Tony Allen (Fela Kuti) for the first time in 11 years to spin a yarn of dystopian post-Brexit England.  Albarn calls it a sequel to Parklife, Blur's big Oasis-competing album of the mid-90's, only now he wonders if all that English Pride has somehow created an Us v Them mentality of isolationism and racial preservation at the expense of its own future.  It might not hit you over the head on the first play, but over repeated listenings, this is a deeply unsettling album about a troubled nation at war with its own ideologies.  Creaky decay abounds...

2)  SUEDE--The Blue Hour

Blue Hour

Their third album after a successful reunion album and tour in 2013 (Bloodsports), The Blue Hour follows Night Thoughts as a self-proclaimed trilogy in which the band finally seem to be dispensing with attaching "London" to the beginning of their name.  It's one of their best albums yet, focusing on the death and decay one finds if they look hard enough at the suburbs of England's largest cities.  Grand in scope, it features some of their best songwriting with the final three ballads being particularly haunting.  Great seeing a band that's been through so much making such impressive artistic statements so far into their near-30-year career.

3)  LOW--Double Negative

Double Negative

From the second this album begins to play, Low demand you listen on their terms.  They are exploring new musical languages here where even their vocals get buried under layers of distortion, all in service to the overall effect.  It's rare when one finds an album in which the studio itself has been used as a musical instrument, and the ideas here are nothing short of inspiring.  A groundbreaking achievement in what one thinks of as "alternative" music, and a leap in a chapter of Low, a long-existing band that still manage to find new ways to make music interesting.

4)  FATHER JOHN MISTY--God's Favorite Customer

God's Favorite Customer

Could it be that Josh Tillman is THE singer-songwriter of this generation?  He's certainly in the running, and this is his third album in the past three years, nothing short of prolific (especially considering the length of last year's Pure Comedy).  God's Favorite Customer is a tighter, briefer album than his last, and yet there is still a wealth of ideas and arrangements.  What really stands out is Tillman's sarcasm, most evident on songs like "Mr. Tillman", which he composed while living in an LA hotel.  It's one observational piece in the puzzle that makes up the enigma of Father John Misty.

5)  GORILLAZ--The Now Now

The Now Now [Explicit]

Damon Albarn strikes again!  His second entry in the top 10 was this summer's latest Gorillaz album, The Now Now, which follows last year's Humanz (This guy's been busy).  One reason this album succeeds is how it presents itself as the antithesis to the last album, marred by too many guest spots and too little of Damon's weary, creaky Britpop vocals to balance the project (it was like a super mixtape).  The Now Now feels much more personal and fully developed, with clubby and summery tracks rubbing up against new wave styled material and forlorn balladry.  It's actually one of Albarn's best records to date.

6)  PARQUET COURTS--Wide Awake

Wide Awake! [Explicit]

One of the most surprising records of the year was the great new Parquet Courts album.  It took their ramshackle style, harnessed it to a Danger Mouse production that basically stayed out of the way but said "You guys need to bring the hooks".  What developed was an album with energy and urgency, flipping through a bunch of different styles from one track to the next, and they seem pretty comfortable with every one of them.  This is a great alternative rock record that's a throwback while pointing the future to a positive Parquet Courts to come.  And "Total Football" is a jam!

7)  SHAME--Songs of Praise

Songs of Praise

Another big surprise this year was the debut of Shame, a twitchy and punky young British act (Think Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, Wire, etc).  A band with a charismatic lead singer/howler that takes in alterna-pop fare on tracks like "One Rizla", but then goes sort of darkly off the deep end with some of their other tracks ("Gold Hole" is particularly disturbing in a Trump-y sort of way).  Not for the faint of heart but definitely worth the time, Shame has a bright future indeed.

8)  THE 1975--A Brief History Into Online Relationships

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships [Explicit]

Matty Healy and co. continue to stretch their emo souls as they release what may be their best album yet.  Still unwieldy in structure and difficult to pin down, the latest album from The 1975 finds them taking on Bon Iver-styled electronica, ambient textures, light jazz and hip hop, rousing dance pop, and more.  None of this would work, however, were it not for the lyrics Healy comes up with, honest tropes that push the profound and the banal together in one sentence.  The 1975 may seem cookie cutter in some ways, but in reality, they are a unique band in a sea of soundalikes.  Something here for everybody.

9)  JANELLE MONAE--Dirty Computer

Dirty Computer [Explicit]

Janelle continues to thrill with her latest album, Dirty Computer, in which she takes a bit of a break from the Cindy Mayweather story of her past couple archandroid releases.  The sci-fi is still present, yet Janelle has other things she wants to discuss here, mainly more about humans, whether it be race and civil rights, sex and gender equality, shackles of poverty and an unfair justice system, and freedom for everyone.  These are heady topics that she generally nails with observational grace, and while it may lack some of the freeform aspects of its predecessors, it's an album from an artist who has become so very important to the world of popular music and a much needed voice right now.

10)  LILY ALLEN--No Shame

No Shame [Explicit]

Oh Lily.  At first we weren't really feeling this record, as she has traded much of the charming ska and light electronica that made her a hit in the first place for something a bit more trendy and trap-centric, so we sort of dismissed it.  Then we listened again.  And again.  It's like a car crash one can't turn away from.  Allen's personal life fell into shambles when she began making this record, and it plays like the diary of a very hurt individual after a painful divorce.  Lily gets more personal than ever, and while the music may sometimes be a bit skeletal, she always delivers in the lyrics and the melodies, showing why this album was nominated for this year's Mercury Prize in England.  It was likely her most difficult album to make, but the payoff is there if you stick with it.  Some of the saddest songs I've heard all year.



Baltimore's Beach House do it again with another album of soft-focus psychedelic pop that brings forth some of their best qualities that had diminished somewhat with their last two releases that came out a couple years ago almost together (Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars...not including the B-sides album of last year too).  Ultimately, 7 is one of the most enjoyable Beach House releases as it pulls together their most direct tendencies as a statement of purpose with a bit of experimentation thrown in for good measure.  If you liked Teen Dream or Bloom, this is more along those lines.

12)  GANG OF YOUTHS--Go Farther in Lightness

Go Farther In Lightness

As we previously stated, this album was actually released in 2017 but not physically until early 2018 in the US.  These Australians take the best influences from the anthemic rock of Springsteen and the alternative heart of early Arcade Fire, channel it through a bit of emo and Eno, and come up with one of the most heartfelt and engaging albums of the year, musically and lyrically.  It's an album that deals with illness of a loved one, but projects a rather optimistic future after all the heartbreak, giving the listener a ray of sunshine after the storm.  It's cathartic and moving, and one that we'll be playing for years to come, moody instrumentals and all.

13)  NATALIE PRASS--The Future & The Past

The Future And The Past

Virginia's own Natalie Prass sort of flew under our radar a couple years back with her debut, and while she continued working with most of the same people for this release, she took some artistic risks that really paid off here.  Channeling both Karen Carpenter and Janet Jackson may seem like a bit of a stretch, but Natalie imbues this album with the soul and lighter touches of Jackson's early funk balladry with the precision of Carpenter's melancholy.  It's a rewarding combination that stuns on repeated listens, and we think it's one of the most purely enjoyable albums of the year  (In other words, you really don't have to try to like it).  Her musicality also opens the doors to what the possibility of the future holds, and we can't wait to see where she goes from here.

14)  MITSKI--Be the Cowboy

Be the Cowboy

Mitski is rather new to the music "scene", having had some critical acclaim with her previous album, Puberty 2 from 2016.  Be the Cowboy is a different beast entirely, as she becomes much more comfortable with the studio and expanding her sonic palette.  The jump in production technique between the two releases is shocking, as she now seems so professional as though she's been doing this for years, and while she is musically adept, the songs speak with more fluidity as a result of this newfound sophistication.  Be the Cowboy is the album that proves Mitski is one to watch for the future.

15)  TRACEY THORN--Record


Tracey Thorn albums have become special events anymore, as she has basically receded from "the music thing" to the point that she no longer plays live (she says she has developed stage fright), and this is after several years as half of the duo Everything But the Girl (with husband Ben Watt).  Her albums now feel like labors of love, as she continues to work with longtime producer Ewan Peterson on Record, an album of seven rather brief pop tracks and an extended one (the fantastic "Sister" featuring Corinne Bailey Rae on backing vocals).  It's one of the most personal albums of the year (alongside Lily Allen and Gang of Youths) as a sort of chronological autobiography of her life journey in song as she is now fifty-something with stories to tell.  Strangely, she continues to shun working with her musician husband after nearly two decades of tiny guest spots and a few solo albums for both, yet she continues to plough her own musical path in the process.  With records this good, that seems to be an OK thing.

16)  ARCTIC MONKEYS--Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

One of the bravest and most audacious moves of the year was this album from Arctic Monkeys.  Following the super popular AM (2013), years spent doing other things (like Last Shadow Puppets) changed Alex Turner's perception of what this band could be.  Here he avoids anything that plays like a radio hit, instead coming up with an art piece describing a story of himself as fading rock star who tires of the whole thing and decides to move to Mars where he can focus on life in the intergalactic hotel and casino.  This, kids, is what we used to call a "concept album".  Few hooks and tons of lyrics, Turner stretches out and slows things down considerably for an album that may seem easy to admire and hard to love, and yet, the more you hear it, the more it settles into a very strong piece of work with moments of humor and wit.  Not your typical Arctic Monkeys record then, but with Turner at their heart, that's OK.

17)  CHARLI XCX--Number 1 Angel / Pop 2

Pop 2 [Explicit]

This is sort of cheating since Charli's two mixtapes, Number 1 Angel and Pop2 both came out in 2017 (April and December, respectively), but in today's marketplace, we didn't hear either of these here until 2018 when they were released on vinyl together.  A modern pop career that is comprised of albums, singles, collaborations, mixtapes...this new pop thing is all a bit confusing to keep up with...yet, these two collections comprising 20 tracks play as a definitive version of what it means to sound "pop" in 2018.  Number 1 Angel is the more melodic and catchy of the two, placing heartfelt ballads inbetween cut n paste dance tracks, while Pop2 is definitely more experimental.  They feature an array of post-millennial guest stars including Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, SOPHIE, Mykki Blanco, and Cupcakke among others.

18)  BREEDERS--All Nerve

All Nerve

Who would have thought the Breeders foursome that made the classic Last Splash album would reunite to make one of the best "alternative" albums of 2018?  Somehow the Breeders' reunion seemed to produce results that picked up right where Last Splash left off, and landed much closer to their former material than the Pixies' recent reboot without (member of both) Kim Deal did.  Even the artwork was 4AD worthy, echoing the look and feel of their former record label.  While there are some darker turns on this album than their usual fare, the experimentation opens the door to new areas of exploration.  This is how to do a reunion right, and here's hoping they can build on what they released here.

19)  KACEY MUSGRAVES--Golden Hour

Golden Hour

Simply put, Kacey Musgraves wins the award for the most easily likable album of 2018.  She is proving herself to be much more than the typical country artist, imbuing her songs with charm and wit, humor and heartache, and she continues to talk about things that have been endlessly written about in new and unique perspectives.  While Taylor Swift seems like she can sometimes be trying too hard, Kacey is effortless in her work and appeal.  There's not a wasted moment on this album, and if you have not heard it, here's a good example of what a good country/pop crossover SHOULD sound like in 2018.

20)  MARIANNE FAITHFULL--Negative Capability

Negative Capability (Boxset)

Has Marianne Faithfull made the bravest album of 2018?  We'll let you decide.  The 71-year old former Mick Jagger flame continues to push herself, even when it seems as though her voice is trying to leave her.  There is no place for her voice to hide here, and the years of drug abuse when she was younger have definitely taken their toll.  It's even more apparent how worn her voice has become than it was on 2014's Give My Love to London album.  One listen to her raw reworking of "As Tears Go By", her hit song written by Jagger/Richards/Oldham and released when she was 18, and comparing it to the original shows she has had a very hard life of hard living.  Even so, she bares herself more intimately than any other singer of her age and condition (or almost any other singer, really), and it's rather shocking being confronted by this sound so directly.  A couple more Dylan and Pretty Things covers mix here with originals by Nick Cave, Ed Harcourt, and Mark Lanegan.  Marianne, however, is the star of the show.

Other Highlights:

JOHN GRANT--Love is Magic
KALI UCHIS--Isolation
WYE OAK--The Louder I Call, the Faster it Runs
JAMES--Living in Extraordinary Times
OF MONTREAL--White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood
HOP ALONG--Bark Your Head Off, Dog
J MASCIS--Elastic Days
SLEEP--The Sciences
SNAIL MAIL--I Feel Pretty
JAKE SHEARS--Jake Shears
MUSE--Simulation Theory
SHRIEKBACK--Why Anything? Why This?
SIMPLE MINDS--Walk Between Worlds
KURT VILE--Bottle it in
BELLE & SEBASTIAN--How to Solve Our Human Problems 1, 2 & 3
COURTNEY BARNETT--Tell Me How You Really Feel
JOHNNY MARR--Call the Comet
GRUFF RHYS--Babelsberg
FRANZ FERDINAND--Always Ascending
JOHN COLTRANE--Both Directions at Once
SHANNON SHAW--Shannon in Nashville
MGMT--Little Dark Age
CHVRCHES--Love is Dead
OUGHT--Room Inside the World
RY COODER--The Prodigal Son
JOHN PRINE--Tree of Forgiveness
YO LA TENGO--There's a Riot Going On
SOPHIE--Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides
SUPERCHUNK--What a Time to Be Alive
LO MOON--Lo Moon
CAT POWER--Wanderer

Treat yourself and bring some of these into your life...See you in 2019...

Saturday, July 7, 2018

2018...Let's meet in the middle...

Hello music lovers!  It's the midpoint of 2018 and time to pause for a little retrospective reflection and see just what music has really reached into our souls this year.  2018 has seemed like a fairly active year musically, with lots of things being released (some digital only, which we will not consider here as they don't really exist except in a purely cyber world, right purists?), and with every exciting release, there seemed to be a few unfortunate letdowns.  Face it, everyone has them.  Even Gorillaz, who had a minor blip last year with Humanz, their first album in seven years, comes roaring back here a year later with The Now Now, one of the best albums of their career.  Go figure!  I can't really think of any major disasters, but some seemed a little less inspired or lackluster than usual, while others maintained their high quality of delivering time after time, or elevated their sound to something new while still engaging the listener.  Below is our list of our top favorites of the first half of 2018.  Did any of yours make the list?  If the first six months were this full, imagine what the next six will bring...

God's Favorite Customer

1) FATHER JOHN MISTY--God's Favorite Customer

Somewhat more reined in than last year's Pure Comedy but no less brilliant, Josh Tillman now turns the spotlight on himself and his own insecurities on a less indulgent album, maintaining his high quality of melodicism while finding new ways to approach lyrical conceits that may seem all too familiar.  He makes them work here, especially in songs like the heartfelt "Just Dumb Enough to Try" and compelling "The Songwriter", while single "Mr. Tillman" is an ode to himself featuring lyrics name-checking Jason Isbell!  As Josh continues chipping away at the persona that is Father John Misty, the lines are beginning to blur as we get closer to the real Mr. Tillman.  It's been an interesting journey so far...

The Now Now [Explicit]

2) GORILLAZ--The Now Now

Now now this is more like it.  Last year's Humanz was a bit of a scattered mess...Interesting yes, but a hodgepodge of rounded up tracks strewn across Damon Albarn's floor, picked and sequenced to make some kind of statement while dodging core politics (he decided not to namedrop Trump or Theresa May anywhere in order to keep them from getting any more publicity).  It came across more as "Look what I can do with my bag of tricks" and not "Here's an album you're going to fall in love with".  Maybe had he mixed tracks from Humanz and The Now Now, it would have given fans the respite they were looking for with Damon's voice being more omnipresent.  However, by not mixing them together, he has ended up with the most concise and consistent Gorillaz album to date.  Damon sings every song but one (an instrumental) and guests are kept to an extreme minimum (three as opposed to 25+), making for one superb, cohesive, happily melancholic and super summery album.  The Now Now really feels like the now now, and Damon manages to give the fans mostly what was missing from Humanz.  Try mixing tracks from both for an awesome mixtape!

Wide Awake! [Explicit]


Parquet Courts have, over the course of a few albums, maintained a constant push toward something more refined that doesn't sacrifice any of their ramshackle spirit, and with Wide Awake (assisted by star producer Danger Mouse), they are reaching that sweet spot between artistic credibility, musicality, passion, and drive.  The album features a variety of styles and sounds, channeling their punky spirit on album opener "Total football" (ending with the chant "And fuck Tom Brady"), forays alternately into gentle psychedelia and raucous chantalongs, and Talking Heads-grooviness on the title track.  It's a fun and engaging listen that also has something to say, and that's not an easy thing to do.  Check it out if you have not.

Songs of Praise

4) SHAME--Songs of Praise

Shame is an indie band from England, so they are already saddled with expectations before uttering a note.  What Shame brings that makes them unique is their spoken/yelled lyrics that can evolve into catchy melodies from vocalist Charlie Steen (some Mark E. Smith tendencies), a band that can play both playfully loose or wound up tight, and a somewhat confrontational stage presence that is riveting in its commitment to the cause.  They are the real deal, and Songs of Praise is a must have for any self-respecting fan of UK alterna-punk of the 80's and beyond.  Just listening to Steen utter the word "gynecologist" is pretty riveting on its own.

Dirty Computer [Explicit]

5) JANELLE MONAE--Dirty Computer

What else can be said about Janelle that hasn't been already?  Talented singer, actress, activist, artist, etc.  After setting screens ablaze with her appearances in Oscar winning films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, I have to admit I was a bit worried she wouldn't return to the world of music.  What a gift that she did.  So much of Dirty Computer is imbued with the spirit of Prince, frequent Monae collaborator and advisor...even "Make Me Feel" is like Prince's "Kiss" piped in from another time.  While Monae seems to have temporarily abandoned the Cindy Mayweather narrative somewhat that she has employed on her past three releases, the new album resonates with the spirit of the #Metoo movement and empowerment.  Face it, Janelle, this girl from Kansas City who's mom used to clean hotel rooms, is unstoppable, and we are all the more blessed for her voice in these troubling times.

Go Farther In Lightness

6) GANG OF YOUTHS--Go Farther in Lightness

Actually released in Australia in 2017 but physically issued in the US in 2018, this Australian band came up with an album full of optimism after the lead singer dealt with a situation involving his girlfriend's cancer diagnosis and how one moves on after such a devastating situation.  An epic sprawl of an album befitting a classic Arcade Fire record, Go Farther in Lightness is full of bursting energy, quiet reflection, heartfelt lyrics, abundant melodies, bookending interludes, and is simply one of the most engaging albums you'll hear all year.  Do yourself a favor and make this one part of your collection the way I have.  It deserves a much wider audience.



While Beach House are beginning to seem like old pros at this music thing, here they expand their sonic palette for album 7 by employing producer Sonic Boom (ex-Spacemen 3).  The result is a big sounding album full of buzzy synths and distorted textures befitting a My Bloody Valentine ballad.  There's still a wooziness on some tracks like the ethereal "Lemon Glow", but tracks such as opener "Dark Spring" displays a newfound aggression not present in much of their other music.  This is a way for Beach House to move forward while still giving the fans what they want or expect.  It's an endearing record that develops it's charms over repeated listens, and is their best effort since Bloom.

The Future And The Past

8) NATALIE PRASS--The Future & the Past

Talk about taking it to the next level.  Natalie Prass' debut a couple years back was a pleasantly engaging listen, wonderfully arranged and written, but when she set out to make album number two, the #Metoo movement and Janet Jackson stirred her consciousness.  This directed the album toward an airy sort of funk, the kind of record Steely Dan would have made if they'd had a female singer back in the 70's.  A couple moments of pure Karen Carpenter-balladry slip in here and there, but overall, this is one for the sisters who are doin' it for themselves.  It's catchy AND meaningful, not an easy thing to do, and it leaves the listener wanting more.

Bad Witch


Trent Reznor continued his exploration of the rawer side of Nine Inch Nails with the third of his three planned EP's (or new album, depending on what you think of a six track record with at least one instrumental and a total running time of about 30 minutes).  Bad Witch is the most successful of the three, as it opens with a couple grinding NIN stormers, followed closely by some Low-era Bowie sax playing and crooning, something he's never really done this way before.  Trent and Bowie were pretty good friends, and Blackstar (Bowie's final record) looms large over this project in scope and tone.  It's bracing stuff, and shows a new path for future Nine Inch Nails material.   


10) TRACEY THORN--Record

At this point, every album Tracey releases is a something special.  Record is her first effort since 2010 (if you don't count 2012's Christmas album, Tinsel and Lights).  She has stated that she now suffers from severe stage fright, and has not performed on stage for nearly twenty years, retreating into motherhood, songwriting, and becoming a lauded author (she has released a couple very good books).  One gets the sense that Record, one of her most personal efforts, loosely traces the journey of her life from song to song, as indie musician, member of Everything But the Girl and eventual wife to Ben Watt of said duo, and then motherhood and the mothballing of EBTG and middle age.  It is her third solo since their break, and shows just how much she has come into her own.  Oddly enough, there is never much mentioned about her history in EBTG or her current home life (although Ben shared quite a bit of himself in his autobiography after his near death around 1990).  Record lets us in just enough (although on first listen you wonder if things are well at home), and there are some stunning songs like the epic "Sister" and the poppy "Air", both featuring guest women artists in Corinne Bailey Rae and Shura.  Welcome back, and don't wait so long next time.

Number 1 Angel/Pop 2 (Explicit)(2LP Color Vinyl)

11) CHARLI XCX--Number 1 Angel/Pop 2

Bratty pop from a fascinating artist who goes all in on what she calls "mixtapes" here.  The amount of collaborations sort of lends itself to that, but most pop singers' main records don't sound this fully formed or brave for that matter.  That makes it hard to know where exactly to put this project, so maybe we're just better off enjoying it for what it is...a couple really good collections of catchy modern pop tunes.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

12) ARCTIC MONKEYS--Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Much has already been said about this album and its difficult nature, so I will say less here, except that it's a very enjoyable concept album about a rock star moving to another planet.  It takes more than three minutes to tell the story, so you have to listen to the whole 45.  Do you have the patience?

All Nerve

13) BREEDERS--All Nerve

Proving you can go back, The Breeders reunited with all four original members for this new record for the first time in over 25 years and came away with an album that actually lives up to the promise of follow-up to Last Splash!  It makes one wonder what sort of music we could have been getting all along from this band, much less others who seem to have gone silent or mixed it up with different people when there was a certain chemistry that just worked.  Belly (featuring Tanya Donnelly who used to be in the original Breeders) recently reunited and did the same (Lush and Stone Roses tried but couldn't bring themselves to reach the finish line).  Sometimes it has to be about preserving your legacy, and whatever the motivation here, it worked, and better than the recent Pixies albums.

Twin Fantasy

14) CAR SEAT HEADREST--Twin Fantasy

Will Toledo has got something.  After Ric Ocasek rained all over his parade on previous Teens of Denial, Will went to his comfort zone and re-recorded an earlier album of his, Twin Fantasy.  It was a mostly successful endeavor as it benefits from sharper (and more expensive) production.  Twin Fantasy is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of Will and into the mind of a young gay man searching for love, not something you're likely to find in heaps of rock records from the past.

High As Hope [Explicit]

15) FLORENCE & THE MACHINE--High as Hope

Florence dials it back here, employing a bit less-is-more ethos, and it seems to help reach a certain level of depth and intimacy that she hasn't quite reached until now.  By making a more personal record, she has given the listener something familiar and something new simultaneously, another win-win for Ms. Welch.  Where on earth will she go from here?  Will we ever know what The Machine is all about?

Heaven and Earth

16) KAMASI WASHINGTON--Heaven & Earth

Kamasi took some time making this latest magnum jazz opus, and it was worth the wait.  Of course, if you're making an album over two hours long and then add a 40 minute EP to it, that's gonna take some time.  Coming off like a modern Sun Ra gone funky, Kamasi mixes different kinds and sizes of groups, sometimes including vocals and choirs, to achieve a heady mix of psychedelic acoustics that are quite effective as something to focus on or alternately a soundtrack to a life.  Fascinating stuff, but prepare yourself...You're gonna need some serious time to digest it all...


17) NEKO CASE--Hell-On

The chanteuse of Northwestern indie darlings New Pornographers may have introduced Case and her distinct vocals to a larger audience, but her most interesting work continues to be what she does outside of the band.  A couple years back, she participated in a trio with other ladies of the north Laura Veirs and k.d. lang to stunning effect, and now she is back on her own, delivering an album of intricately written and arranged songs, featuring a few male guest vocalists (Mark Lanegan, Eric Bachmann, Porno's own A.C. Newman), and yet she has never sounded more self-assuredly Neko.  A series of unfortunate events was the inspiration for this effort, and it feels like much of her life is always on fire somewhere, just as reflected in the album's crazy cover art.  It continues the trajectory of an artist who keeps things interesting while she continues to explore her world.

Tell Me How You Really Feel

18) COURTNEY BARNETT--Tell Me How You Really Feel

I have to admit I wasn't much for Courtney's shared album with Kurt Vile last year.  They are two artists that are great on their own, but for some reason, they just didn't mesh for me as well as I would have liked.  Maybe they're each a little too blase about their vocals that two of them at once was too much.  I'm not sure.  In any case, I am very glad to have Courtney back on her own here, and she rises to the challenge with an album full of great songs and lots of humor to boot.  Hopefully she sticks to herself for a little while and develops her sound a little more, as the results here are much more endearing.

Golden Hour

19) KACEY MUSGRAVES--Golden Hour

Kacey is one of the few country artists on this list, although I hesitate to use that moniker, as she is constantly growing and changing.  It amazes me that she manages to live in a Taylor Swift world and yet is still making music that can be considered "country" that still appeals to lots of former Swifties.  Golden Hour is her most pop-centric effort to date, but her lyrics and vocals tend to take her in more of a breezy country route.  This album has been one of the highest rated albums of 2018, and it's not hard to see why, as there is nothing extraneous, no fluff, just a tight and well-made record that makes you wanna play it again as soon as it ends.  That's the sign of something remarkable.


20) BELLY--Dove

Another reinvigorated band of the past returns with all it's original members, and while Dove doesn't rewrite the playbook, it gives us a more mature version of Tanya Donnelly as a vocalist 23 years after King was released.  It's pleasant enough stuff, and also has the added effect of reminding us how much autotune and studio trickery is a part of all music now, as this is a pretty straightforward record made with their original producer in order to preserve something of their legacy.  Just fine the way it is.

21) OF MONTREAL--White is Relic / Irrealis Mood

Their most invigorating album in years, and the psychedelic electro-funk would make Prince happy.

22) WYE OAK--The Louder I Call the Faster it Runs

Brilliantly talented duo soldiers on after moving around and side projects, now incorporating all elements of their abilities full on.  It only goes up from here.

23) GRUFF RHYS--Babelsburg

Super Furry Animals' lead singer returns with a great chamber pop album that reminds one of both Scott Walker and The Divine Comedy.  One of the best things he's ever done.

24) JOHNNY MARR--Call the Comet

Marr continues to grow and develop as a singer and songwriter years after his first gig in the Smiths, and this latest is one of his best so far.  Oasis fans take note.

25) PREOCCUPATIONS--New Material

Formerly Viet Cong, this Canadian band is sometimes difficult to figure out and can be quite dark.  Preoccupations is laser focused on presenting a certain sound and feel, which they achieved here.

26) BELLE & SEBASTIAN--How to Solve Our Human Problems

The strategy of releasing 3 EPs over a three month period was sort of genius but also a bit confusing.  If one gets to the heart of the songs contained in these EPs, we'd have an excellent full album to hear in one full listening.

27) TRACYANNE & DANNY--Tracyanne & Danny

Camera Obscura lost keyboardist Carey Lander at age 33 to bone cancer, and singer Tracyanne felt lost.  After taking a break and taking care of her young child, she has taken steps back toward music with the help of her friend, Danny Coughlan.  Their debut is a bit of an ode to an American road-trip, something to help take Tracyanne to a new place mentally and spiritually.  Light from darkness.

28) LO MOON--Lo Moon

If you liked Talk Talk and missed their Colour of Spring era music, this is the closest you're going to get to a rebirth as they have long called it a day.  You could do a whole lot worse for inspiration or execution of a sound than this.  Featuring Dave Stewart's (Eurythmics) son with Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama, Shakespear's Sister) Sam on guitar as an added bonus.


Eleanor went to Greece after her last record, and not only did she make a different sounding record (less band involvement), she also reflected a little on what was going on in the US viewing it as a spectator from the other side of the world.  Another winner from her.

30) KALI UCHIS--Isolation

One of the brightest new artists to jump on the scene is Colombia by way of DC based Kali Uchis.  You may have heard Uchis but not known it was her, as she has appeared on recordings with Gorillaz and Damon Albarn (on her album too), Tyler the Creator, Jorja Smith, Juanes, and Lana del Rey among others.  Isolation is a unique but self-assured debut.

More great albums:

JOHN COLTRANE--Both Directions at Once: the Lost Album
LUMP featuring Laura Marling--Lump
FRANZ FERDINAND--Always Ascending
THE VACCINES--Combat Sports
LAURA VEIRS--The Lookout
SHANNON SHAW--Shannon in Nashville
OUGHT--Room Inside the World
MGMT--Little Dark Age
DAVID BYRNE--American Utopia
HOLLIE COOK--Vessel of Love
CHVRCHES--Love is Dead
GAZ COOMBES--World's Strongest Man
HOP ALONG--Bark Your Head Off, Dog
CREEPSHOW featuring John Grant--Mr. Dynamite
TUNE-YARDS--I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
YO LA TENGO--There's a Riot Going On
SUNFLOWER BEAN--Twentytwo in Blue
THE VOIDZ featuring Julian Casablancas--Virtue
JOSH T. PEARSON--The Straight Hits!
BUFFALO TOM--Quiet & Peace
BRANDI CARLILE--By the Way, I Forgive You
CALEXICO--Thread That Keeps Us
US GIRLS--In a Poem Unlimited
I AM X--Alive in New Light
SIMPLE MINDS--Walk Between Worlds
RY COODER--The Prodigal Son
TY SEGALL--Freedom's Goblin
RYLEY WALKER--Deafman Glance
SUPERCHUNK--What a Time to be Alive
THE DAMNED--Evil Spirits
DAMIEN JURADO--Damien Jurado
LUCY DACUS--Historian
MANIC STREET PREACHERS--Resistance is Futile
DAPHNE & CELESTE--Daphne & Celeste Save the World

What did we miss?