I don’t always find ten albums I love every year. I don’t lose sleep over this conclusion because that’s what makes the search for new music exciting. It’s not a given I’ll always find an album that connects with me, but when I do, that’s a special feeling. 2018 had a lot of albums I appreciated, admired, respected, but few I loved. Plenty of albums were solid, maybe only one or two really spoke to me, but I always enjoy the journey. Here’s what I found.
Father John Misty is my favorite modern artist. I’ll admit that he comes off as arrogant sometimes—this is a guy who after winning a Grammy last year responded by saying “Fuck Society”—but he’s an excellent storyteller. The tone is lighter on God’s Favorite Customer but not without FJM’s trademark cynicism. Actually the more I think about it if you listen to the album on YouTube it’s accompanied by a video of the album cover crying. So maybe it’s not that happy. Still good though.
Leon Bridges broke out in 2015 with Coming Home an homage to ‘60s R&B. Back this time with a style more reminiscent of ‘70s ghetto soul, Bridges matures lyrically and musically. Tender ballads make up most of the album but it does carry a funky, even jazzy undertone through a list of thoughtful numbers. If the universe is fair he’ll be a bigger star in the years to come. Come on Universe, do your job.
Remember when rap albums used to be the length of a David Lean epic? You don’t even have to remember that far back considering Migos kicked off the year with a 106 minute album. Now all I’m hearing about are short rap albums. Kanye West, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, and Tierra Whack all released albums that run about as long as an episode of Seinfeld. Though if I have to pick a favorite I’m going with Vince Staples summery ode to Southern California on FM!. With tracks like “Feels Like Summer” this is the ultimate summer jam mix… except that it came out in November.
Parquet Courts could record themselves shitting in a bucket and it would probably end up on my top ten list. They have their sound down. A quirky, punky, garage sound that never gets old and never stops being fun. The title track is so much fun it landed them an appearance on Ellen. That’s nothing to scoff at.
Watch any video of Charles Bradley and tell me it doesn’t look like his whole body is crying. The man had so much passion he couldn’t contain one drop. Though I’m not usually a fan of posthumous art, Bradley had a unique relationship with his producer/guitarist Thomas Brenneck. It reminds me of the relationship Rick Rubin had with Johnny Cash where Rubin would convince Johnny to record an unusual cover and make it his own. Brenneck has done the same convincing Bradley to record Black Sabbath’s “Changes” on his last album and Nirvana’s “Stay Away” on this album. The results are another funky throwback that leaves us wondering what more Bradley could have given. Not that he didn’t already give us everything he had to give.
These lads seem a bit daft but they be good for a wee laff. The words are cheeky and all ’n all it’s a real banger. Now slag off!
I used to drive to central Washington a lot. Driving through a snowy mountain pass in the winter there was nothing better than cruising along to woodsy folk music or heartland rock. It’s a shame Golden Hour didn’t exist back then because it would have been the perfect soundtrack. It’s everything you could want in a country album and then a few other things you didn’t even know you needed. Disco country? Get me on that “High Horse”.
This is the kind of angst I need in 2018. There’s a no bullshit feel to the way Sophie Allison aka Soccer Mommy says “I don’t want to be your fucking dog.” Clean is unflinching but vulnerable. When Sophie sings “I Wanna be that cool.” I feel it. I wanna be cool too.
This album is a party. Superorganism is an international collective of musicians, including the effortlessly cool Orono Noguchi, that know how to have a good time. They sing about fame, computers, prawns, everything. The melodies are catchy, the synths are buzzy, and the fun never stops.
It’s not hard to pick my favorite album of the year.That’s because it’s not a rational decision as much as it’s a feeling. What’s hard is to explain that feeling. Bell House isn’t going to be on most people’s lists. It’s a short album from a new band that probably has less than twenty videos on YouTube—music videos and live performances included—and I’ve seen them all.
Why do these humble boys from Kansas City speak to me? There’s a homegrown sweetness to Bell House. It feels like a group of close friends getting together and hanging out, slinging summery riffs and singing beautiful harmonies. The lyrics are funny and the mood is light and in 2018 sometimes that’s all you need.