This is a simple overview of my favorite albums of 2018. Naturally I am only able to comment on those albums that I had the time to listen to and to find my way into. Many lists have albums from Mitski and others on there that I just didn’t totally get into. The list that follows is a mixture of albums that a lot of critics adored and others that just stood out to me. You probably won’t like all of these, but I’m pretty sure you can find something here that turns you on.
#13: Deafheaven, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. On ANTI-.
Deafheaven’s first record since 2015 sees the band moving into more melodic territory, sort of. Deafheaven is basically black metal mixed with a little Slowdive and a little Sigur Ros. The songs are often long–the opener “You Without End” runs 7 and a half minutes and the showstopper “Glint” runs over 10. The album is said to be based on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair and you can certainly hear ordinary corrupt human love in the lyrics, or you can just sit back and bask in the sound. Basically, cool people like Deafheaven. Do you want to be cool? I thought so.
I’m by no means a black metal completist so the comparisons won’t be perfect but…
RIYL: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Jesu, Pelican, Sigur Ros
Start With: You Without End, Glint, Honeycomb
#12: Metric, The Art of Doubt. On MMI/ Crystal Math Music.
I just love Metric and Emily Haines, so this is an easy one. Fantasies is a top 30 record of the millennium. The Art of Doubt doesn’t quite rise to that level, but it’s a kick-ass rocker through and through and “The Risk,” holy lord:
Was the risk I sent to you received?
All the words we say to be believed?
I’m already over the thrill of pursuit
Where can I take this risk I took with you?
Send this kiss to someone new?
Metric is historical high-level. I’m a Gemini sun with Mars in Leo in my 10th house. I am, basically speaking, not afraid of people. What you got? Yeah, color me impressed. However…there are three women I would be a bit daunted to meet. In order:
#1: Brit Marling, actress and creator of The OA.
#2: Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric.
#3: Kristin Stewart, actress in Personal Shopper.
RIYL: Chvrches, Broken Social Scene, Emily Haines, Lower Dens
Start With: The Risk, Dark Saturday
#11: Bad Moves, Tell No One. On Don Giovanni Records.
I wrote about Bad Moves extensively here: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/16/crushes-and-crushing-with-bad-moves-and-swearin/. Bad ass power pop with attitude, class, and sweetness. That’s quite a combination. And Emily Park is stunning. That’s my opinion, and I am correct.
RIYL: Dirty on Purpose, Daddy Issues, Swearin’
Start With: Crushed Out, Missing You
#10: Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer. On Bad Boy Records and Atlantic Records.
I really liked her last record, and her new one is a huge step forward. Janelle is a star, no question about it. This is a rollicking record with breadth and depth and takes multiple listens to plumb. Janelle is living in public with no apologies. The record is long and dense and encompass a range of moods. The best places to jump in are the fist-pumping tracks like “Django Jane,” which sees Monae spitting fire:
Yeah, yeah this is my palace, champagne in my chalice
I got is all covered like a wedding band
Wonderland, so my alias is Alice
We gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot
Or we gon’ have to put them on a pussy diet
Look at that, I guarantee I got ’em quiet
Look at that, I guarantee they all inspired
I can’t wait to see her live as soon as possible.
RIYL: Lykke Li, Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Lady Gaga
Start With: Crazy Classic Life, Django Jane
#9: The Hold Steady, Confusion in the Marketplace/ The Stove and the Toaster b/w Star 18/ Eureka b/w Esther.
This one is a bit of a cheat as it is not actually an album. These are the three two-song releases from The Hold Steady in 2018. If you aren’t a hardcore fan you these might have slipped beneath your radar. That’s a shame because there are some classic Hold Steady songs and some killer Craig Finn lines in these songs.
“The Stove and the Toaster” details yet another bad deal gone down, a classic Finn theme.
Got some new information from the chef and the chauffeur
The put the stash in the stove they keep the cash in the toaster
Down in Las Cruces they don’t play with jokers
I hope I still know you when this is all over.
Needless to say, the narrator and crew get burned by the chef and the chauffeur in the end. Yeah, it’s sort of Finn-by-numbers, so, basically the kind of lines other songwriters would kill for.
My two favorites here are #2 “Esther,” and #1 “Star 18.” Esther is a great song about a week long romance. It remains totally remarkable how much detail and color Finn can get across in a 4 minute song.
The party ended suddenly, suddenly it’s over
That left me and Esther all along and getting older
All alone and getting older and smoking in the street
Now everything is Esther and it’s been that way all week
Esther follows the transcendent “Tangletown” from 2017’s We All Want the Same Things as a precisely executed x-ray of a complex adult relationship. I like it a lot.
Best of all is “Star 18,” a top 10 all time Hold Steady track. It’s an upbeat rocker that would fit on Stay Positive (still my favorite record by this great band.). A tongue-in-cheek commentary on the music scene and a come on song at the same time, Star 18 features lines that help make the case for Finn as the greatest living lyricist under 70.
Sorry I’m late, I got caught in the mosh
With this dude that said he used to play with Peter Tosh
But he never brought it up again once I said, man, I don’t believe you
Hold Steady at the Comfort Inn
Mick Jagger’s at the Mandarin
Once you get good, you can get it wherever you are.
The Hold Steady gets it wherever they are, believe me.
RIYL: Rock ‘n Roll
Start With: Star 18
#8: Snail Mail, Lush. On Matador Records.
This girl is like 19. Amazing. Snail Mail shreds. Lush is one of the most accomplished and poised debuts in a while. I would compare it to Courtney Barnett’s first record, which people love, but Snail Mail is younger and the guitar is better.
Passing phrases wear you thin/ same old world that you’ve been sleeping in
And I hope it never spends you up/ green eyes, what could ever be enough?
What indeed. Snail Mail may become massive. Scratch that, they already are.
RIYL: Daddy Issues, Courtney Barnett, Soccer Mommy, Chastity Belt
Start With: Heat Wave, Speaking Terms
#7: Big Red Machine, s/t. On Jagjaguwar.
A collaboration between Aaron Dessner of the The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Big Red Machine is actually a collective–Dessner says that up to 30 musicians were involved in the making of this album. It sounds more like Bon Iver than the National, more or less, but is totally its own beast. Slow moving, sonically enveloping, even hypnotic, Vernon carries the album over a mixture of strings and synth beats. However, unlike 22 A Million where you feel the 80s throwback super directly, Big Red Machine sounds contemporary, or better yet, out of place and time. The lyrics are not what you would call linear precise–from the opener “Deep Green”:
Well, I met her at a hard grave
A heat-wave, handshake way
But the Carmex stayed
Come back, do not answer the door
And we met up like a ski team
With it came man’s clout
As with Deafheaven, you can try to follow along, or just surrender. I recommend the latter.
RIYL: Bon Iver, The National, The War on Drugs
Start With: Deep Green, Gratitude.
#6: Broncho, Bad Behavior. On Park the Van.
Broncho kicks ass. Period. I first got to know Broncho from 2014’s Just Hip Enough To Be a Woman. From “It’s On”:
If you show up in my room with no clothes on, it’s on
If you try to bust me out with your bail bonds on, it’s on
We could go to L.A., we could drink manhattans
We could go to Chez Jays, we could get old fashion
This song is every bit as fun as it sounds. The band hails from Oklahoma and is fronted by Ryan Lindsey. Bad Behavior is a pretty capacious catalog of just that. Not a lot of great songs are about good behavior, after all. The songs are super infectious, upbeat indie-pop, and the record is the kind that after a full spin you want to pop it right back on. “Keep It In Line” for example is about an addictive a tune you would want.
You got caught and you gave it away
And then I cancelled on ya
It got hot, yeah, and you did okay
And then I cancelled on ya
On “Family Values” … starts with a super cheeky R&B style “oh, oh, oh, oh” before this lead:
I got a thing for your mother
I got a thing to teach your father
I got family values
The song is a minute 35 seconds. And it’s hysterical.
My favorite is “Big City Boys.” It’s one of those songs where you know what’s going on yet have no idea what’s going on.
I know they only take big trips, they only get the works
They throw a real tight fit all the way up in first
They only make big plans, you never get a cut
They do the runaround better than you do but
Uh huh. For sure. Oh, and the video is filled with Big City Girls. Go figure.