Before I get to 2018, I’m compelled to share my favorite albums from 2017, being that I never wrote/podcasted about that. (I am the worst.) I narrowed down the list to the albums I found myself going back to most in 2018. A year’s worth of hindsight shifts things, no doubt. So here’s what still lingers well for me from 2017.
14. Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains
13. Elbow’s Little Fictions
12. The New Pornographers’ Whiteout Conditions
11. Fleet Foxes’ Crack-Up
10. Real Estate’s In Mind
9. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.
8. Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins
7. Spoon’s Hot Thoughts
6. Lorde’s Melodrama
5. St. Vincent’s Masseduction
4. The Shins’ Heartworms
3. Ryan Adams’ Prisoner
2. The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding
1. Sheer Mag’s Need to Feel Your Love
As for 2018, a reminder that, try as I may, I never get around to listening to everything multiple times, or in the case of some LPs, even once. Here are notable and/or critically acclaimed albums from 2018 I didn’t get to:
-- Pusha T’s Daytona
-- Mitski’s Be the Cowboy
-- Low’s Double Negative
-- Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy
-- Ariana Grande’s Sweetener
-- John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness
-- Mac Miller’s Swimming
-- Vince Staples’ FM!
-- Parquet Courts’ Wide Awake!
-- Travis Scott’s Astroworld
There’s loads more, of course, but those seem to be showing up on many a year-end list. Maybe sometime in 2019.
Now, let’s scoot along to what I did listen to.
Critically praised and/or highly publicized records that I couldn’t connect with
7, Beach House
Thank You For Today, Death Cab for Cutie
Ye, Kanye West
Bottle It In, Kurt Vile
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, The 1975
Little Dark Age, MGMT
Dirty Computer, Janelle Monae
Inconsistent — or underwhelming, or dissatisfying — releases
Oxnard, Anderson .Paak
Know., Jason Mraz
Simulation Theory, Muse
It’s Not Us, Umphrey’s McGee
It’s You, Umphrey’s McGee
Boarding House Reach, Jack White
Young & Dangerous, The Struts
Stone Temple Pilots, Stone Temple Pilots
Anthem of the Peaceful Army, Greta Van Fleet
Tangerine Reef, Animal Collective
Honorable mentions (in no order)
-- Superorganism, Superorganism: Some tight indie pop here. Not a top-15 record, but a nice first swing for a group with disparate origins and an enthusiastic, if a bit weird, way of writing artpop.
-- Longwave, Bonny Doon: Great record for early the morning. One of my welcomed surprises of 2018.
-- What a Wonderful Industry, M. Ward: “Kind of Human” is a standout song on what’s a just-OK M. Ward album. But just-OK M. Ward albums are still good albums.
-- Hope Downs, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: From Melbourne, Australia, this is the band’s first LP. And these guys sound like a band set up for a very good sophomore effort, whenever it may arrive. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever sound like Real Estate with some meat on the bones and a deeper inclination to jam.
-- The Lillywhite Sessions, Ryley Walker: The concept for Walker, who grew up a DMB fan, to cover the band’s tossed-away masterpiece from 2000 was ambitious and at times inconsistent. But there were really inspired covers, takes on tunes that put the songs in a whole new frame, that enhanced the source material.
-- Song for Alpha, Daniel Avery: I’m not a huge write-while-listening-to-music guy (music usually distracts me, in a “good” way, when trying to get the work done), but think I’ve found something here I can go along with. All instrumental. I’m not even sure how to describe this record. It’s droney and electro-industrial and driving and sounds like something I’d hear at walking into a lounge I’m not nearly cool enough to be at in the first place.
-- Egypt Station, Paul McCartney: Macca’s not going to make any more all-time records. The fact that he’s put out good albums well past the age of 60 is a testament to his claim of being maybe the best songwriter ever. This was fine, fairly forgettable, but we’re all so glad McCartney’s still around and wanting to tour and make music. No one’s guaranteed this stuff.
-- Uniform Distortion, Jim James: I initially liked this record a lot more than where I sat with it by year’s end.
-- God’s Favorite Customer, Father John Misty: Angling back toward I Love You, Honeybear territory but still opening up to some new sounds. It's a solid record. Not essential, but highlights how talented an arranger Tillman is.
-- Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett: Solid B. Barnett's sound is always welcomed to my rotation because it has a '90s throwback vibe feel to it in parts, but she's also refreshingly original and contemporary in her approach.
-- Nudes, Lucius: Boasts maybe the best opening track of any album I heard this year.
My favorite albums of 2018
13. The Fratellis’ In Your Own Sweet Time. Release date: March 16.
What a surprise of a record from a band that was expected to have been past its prime. Comeback album for sure. This is in the running for the second-best LP from The Fratellis (nothing will top 2006’s Costello Music). “Stand Up Tragedy” and “Starcrossed Lovers” makes for a strong opening 1-2, while “I Am That” is a fine album-ender. My favorite? “Laughing Gas.”
12. Ryler Walker’s Deafman Glance. Release date: May 18.
Walker has a bright future ahead of him in the indie-rock genre. I discovered him this year (due to his Lillywhite Sessions cover project). On this record, Walker and his bandmates create a vibe, a mood, that’s reminiscent of the best days wasted in an old friend’s basement or crappy apartment. A lot of this record calls to mind one of the truly underrated experimental artrock groups of the past 20 years: The Sea and Cake. “22 days” is a prime example of that.
11. The Wombats’ Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life. Release date: Feb. 9.
Nothing groundbreaking here, genre-wise, but I discovered this band this year and it was a bonus addition to my listening rotation. "Lemon to Knife Fight" and "White Eyes" were the two tunes that hooked me most, but the whole album is a keeper. If you fell hard for the Brit-rock acts of the mid-2000s and are searching for another to keep that spirit alive, The Wombats, now 15 years into their career, fit the bill.
10. CHVRCHES’ Love is Dead. Release date: May 25.
“Get Out” and “Miracle” were the standouts for me on my first listen of this album back in May. And wouldn’t you know it? They wound up being the two biggest songs off the record. However, “My Enemy”is also great, and it features vocals from the lead singer of The National. CHVRCHES isn't expanding its sound or aesthetic too much here, but few acts better meld '80s vibes with modern pop leanings. The group can keep making records like this as far as I'm concerned.
9. Black Panther: The Album. Release date: Feb. 9.
A few tracks on this record don’t do it for me, but the rest easily makes up for it. I’m not even a massive hip-hop fan, but Kendrick Lamar’s about reached the point where I’m going to be in on just about any project he’s associated with. That said, this Vince Staples-propelled track might be my favorite on the album. How many movie soundtracks these days propel a conversation online or in general pop culture? This one did — and it wasn’t mostly due to how good the movie was.
8. Robyn's Honey. Release date: Oct. 26.
“Because It's In The Music” had one of my favorite bass lines of the year. I’ve embedded the song below. I’m not a big Robyn fan, but the record got a lot of fanfare and critical acclaim, particularly after the story behind her hiatus and the glory of her return. She’s a world pop icon, and this is a terrific contemporary pop record that I’m betting will still sound fresh five years from now.
7. Foxing’s Nearer My God. Release date: Nov. 11.
It’s fun to discover a new band and with that be introduced to a sound and style that you knew you liked, but not to a certain type of degree. Another musical nook uncovered. Foxing was that for me. The band might not be for everyone, given its vocal approach, but the songwriting and mixing and overall album approach here is aces. Also, Jon Hellwig is a creative talent as a drummer.
6. boygenius’ boygenius. Release date: Oct. 26.
An EP! Didn't know this (sorta super-) group existed until December. Great harmonies, great songwriting, great vibes. A bit of a somber, but stirring, listen. And it goes by quick. “Salt in the Wound” is a pounder. I want more of this group and a full-fledged album ASAP.
5. Dave Matthews Band's Come Tomorrow. Release date: June 8. Grade: B.
Of course this album was nowhere near any best-of list, but given where the band is more than 25 years into its career, and having abruptly lost its violin player to myriad issues, this album came out well. The track embedded below, “Again and Again,” sounds unlike anything the group has ever done in the studio. Come Tomorrow has some warts and inconsistencies — I wrote a long review here — but it also has two of the top studio tracks (“Again and Again,” “Virginia in the Rain”) the band’s ever done. It also has a song in “Do You Remember” that calls to mind how Matthews used to write songs — 23, 24 years ago. And as “Again and Again” highlights, the record is peppered with a lot of really good choruses.
4. Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Release date: May 11.
Pretty much needs to be listened to in full, as an album, to be completely appreciated. Frontman Alex Turner dips into a phase here that’s best described as David-Bowie-meets-Father-John-Misty-meets-2-am-drunken-musing-while-infomercial-watching. That doesn’t make much sense, and neither does half of this record, but I don’t give a damn. It’s an experience and one I keep wanting to slip back into. Arctic Monkeys, with this record, I think, have established themselves as the premier rock act from England in the 21st century. There is enough growth, catchiness, popularity and ambition in their discography that the band still feels creatively vital and interesting. That’s more true now than it was in 2006.
3. King Tuff's The Other. Release date: April 13.
Psychedelic rock record that’s compact, lively, organic — and futuristic. Tuff entered the scene a decade back as a true grassroots, indie-rock darling. A lot of that pub and praise seems to have worn off, but I think this album comes close to touching the gritty greatness of the self-titled debut LP that brought the band and its creative leader, Kyle Thomas, to acclaim.
2. Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour. Release date: March 30.
Raking in recognition, awards, high spots on so many year-end lists. Deservedly. This album is a masterclass is pop songwriting while dancing on the fence of genres. It’s country but it’s pop but it’s rock but it’s acid-tinged all through. An honest album with a lot of confidence and introspection. Musgraves is now seven records deep into her career, but this one seems to be what’s going to break toward true national stardom. This is the record ideal that hundreds of artists and bands in and around Nashville try to write every year.
1. Kamasi Washington's Heaven and Earth. Release date: June 22.
Its thickness is its greatness. Washington is one of the most inspiring, brilliant creators in music today. Heaven and Earth is a novel of a project, clocking in at two-and-a-half hours — and that’s not even including the secret third disc that was part of the album’s packaging. Obviously this is not a record to be listened to in one sitting. Its journey is best absorbed over the course of a day, or a week, something that can be put down and picked back up. Washington’s jazz-bending style is not just ambitious, it’s pertinacious. And it’s encouraging to see his music receiving attention, praise and opportunity. Come 2050, I think we’ll look back at this era and recognize Washington as one of the standout artists of the time.