10. Come Tomorrow – Dave Mathews Band
Yet another icon in music returning with an excellent outing this year, DMB’s latest record is certainly one for the fans, and considering I count myself proudly among those ranks, I absolutely loved it. A few of the tracks come off as cheesy, even by Mathews’ standards, but there is such a heart to this album that all shortcomings are quickly forgiven.
The instrument pallet is wide, but familiar, sporting excellent horn sections, and solid string work. Carter Beauford returns to remind all of us why he’s one of the best drummers in soft-rock history, gracing every track with his unorthodox style and wonderful ear for accents and cymbal shots. Dave’s vocal has held up well over the years, and his songwriting is every bit as heartfelt as it was on classics like Under the Table and Dreaming. This record is just a feel good effort, which is desperately needed in today’s world.
9. Golden Hours –Kacey Musgraves
A relative newcomer on the country scene, Musgraves’ third studio release was certainly one to be proud of. Up until now, she’d made her name with a sweet lyrical style and youthful writing. After being recognized quite famously by a country legend who will find his way into a later entry on this list, she began to write more maturely and break a few of the rules of radio country music. Enter, Golden Hours.
With this record, Kacey gives listeners a brand new sound that, while still smacking of that classic country twang, incorporates progressive and spacey elements, a la Sturgill Simpson. Her vocal performance is one of the best of this year’s country scene, which remains wide open due to a dearth of activity from the genre’s biggest name. The album, at its roots, is a fairly uneventful, singer/songwriter project, but its Musgraves’ ability to branch out so widely within the relatively restrictive confines of radio friendly country, her reverence for the classics yet irreverence for the rules, that makes it so exciting and new.
8. Eat the Elephant – A Perfect Circle
It’s been fourteen years since APC gave us their last fully original LP. In 2000 and 2003 with the release of Meir De Noms and The Thirteenth Step, APC established themselves as an outlet for Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool, and Billy Howerdell of Ashes Divide to create simpler, more stadium friendly rock n’ roll, which contrasted against their usually progressive, long-form metal. Tracks like “Judith” and “Pet” brought the group massive success but with Eat the Elephant, A Perfect Circle took a bold turn.
The record brings in a softer sound, depending on several interesting piano leads and less heavy guitars. Maynard’s vocal performance is, as one would expect, masterful. He creates constantly unique vocal melodies, each of which he executes efficiently and with style. The sound is far less layered, and instead draws attention directly to whichever instrument or vocal is leading. Maynard has often said that he is “comfortable fading into obscurity,” but it looks like the world isn’t quite finished with him yet.
7. The Tree of Forgiveness – John Prine
It’s been 47 years since Prine debuted on the country scene, and it can’t be exaggerated how much he’s still got it. As one of the biggest names in the Nashville scene, Prine has continued songwriting and remains prolific well into the twilight of his career.
This record is lighthearted, often comical, and performed well by all those involved. Tracks like “Summer Friends,” and “Lonesome Friends of Science,” remind listeners of the most charming side of Country’s rebellious years, while the heartfelt “When I Get To Heaven,” will bring any longtime fan to the border of laughing and crying. This record stands as a shining example of one legend of the business reminding the world just what makes him so great.
6. Beerbongs & Bentleys – Post Malone
Masterfully toeing the line between artist and internet meme, Post Malone was able, on previous efforts, to develop an interesting mix of atmospheric, trap beats and almost folksy vocal performances. Unfortunately, his short discography up to this point had suffered from an inability to make these two styles mesh, as well as an apparent laziness and reliance on heavy bass to paint over flaws.
On Beerbongs & Bentleys, however, everything finally clicks. Eighteen tracks, a record-breaking ten of which found their way onto the Billboard Hot 100, rattle off without anything resembling a weak link along the way. Most features, even including Nicki Minaj on “Ball for Me,” find a way to feel fresh and interesting, and Post himself is in top form throughout. B&B is a rare example of popular music which unquestionably deserves its popularity.
5. POST- – Jeff Rosenstock
This was an album that landed on several end of year lists in 2017, but it actually released early this year. The fourth installation in a relatively young career, POST- finds a way to solidify Rosenstock’s classic punk sound while still feeling relevant and youthful. In a genre which has all but drowned in a flood of hipsters and pop influences, POST- pushes back.
The album is most notable for its energy. Starting with the first true track after the intro, listeners are treated to Jeff’s loud and unapologetic vocal. It’s often out of key, rarely well supported, but its loud and proud, as any great punk frontman should be. Sonically, Rosenstock is able to capture the vibrant, genuine style of punk’s roots, while still acutely aware and reminiscent of the goofy attitude of bands like Weezer and Blink-182. Punk Rock is seeing something of a resurgence recently, and while the bulk of the attention has gone to the heavier, angrier side, Rosenstock provides a much more accessible and fun alternative without losing any of the bite.
4. Verdugo – Richard Edwards
Yet another entry from an artist with an already well established career, Edwards found his footing in the industry as the frontman for the Indiana folk-rock band, Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s. When the band called it quits after a seven album run, Edwards disappeared for a few years before returning in early 2017 with Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, and again this year with its sister album, Verdugo.
Coming off of the heartfelt sweetness of LCCS,Verdugo strikes a darker tone. Heavily emotional lyrics focus on loss and change, all while being wonderfully enhanced by Edwards’ amazing vocal performances. The true highlight of the album, however, is the adoption of the very unique orchestral, guitar rock sound, and Edwards’ ability to finally master that style. With a discography well in the double digits, its great to hear Richard Edwards still pushing himself in brave new directions.
3. Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington
After bringing long form jazz to the mainstream for the first time in decades as the instrumentalist and composer for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Kamasi went on to release his massive jazz opus of a debut, The Epic. The album received a wash of critical praise and commercial success, and established him as the most recognizable name in modern jazz. This public favor was far from squandered with Washington’s sophomore release, Heaven and Earth.
On this album, we hear Kamasi’s growth as a composer. His instrumental pallet expands tenfold, incorporating large choirs, solo vocals, electric guitars, synthesizers, and even a harpsichord. All of this and more is wielded with purpose and discipline by Washington as he swings from style to style, often allowing quick bursts of chaos which resolve wonderfully into catchy melodies. The motif’s are fun, the solos are exciting, and every song seems to have a clear direction and goal. Jazz is making a strong resurgence right now, and Kamasi Washington is their unquestionable leader.
2. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino – Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys is one of the most respected rock bands in the modern scene. They’re one of the few groups from the rock explosion of the mid-2000’s to carry their fame and sound on. Coming off the most successful record in their discography and one of the most successful rock records of the decade, AM, the group seems to have decided that there was no where to go but radically sideways.
By that I mean that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a jarring departure from the garage rock sound we’d come to expect. Instead, Monkeys drew heavily from inspirations like David Bowie and The Doors to give us a deeply atmospheric project. The harsh guitar tones were replaced with strong reverb, the instrumental pallet was expanded to include synthesizers and harpsichords, and the lyricism took a turn for the conceptual. All at once, Arctic Monkeys seemed to recognize that they’d reached a dead end, and boldly embark on a brand new, and exciting path.
- Invasion of Privacy – Cardi B
- KOD – J Cole
- Last Man Standing – Willie Nelson
- The Year of the Snitch – Death Grips
- Stranger Fruit – Zeal and Ardor
- soil – serpentwithfeet
1. God’s Favorite Customer – Father John Misty
In 2017, Josh Tillman, now working under the moniker of Father John Misty, dropped Pure Comedy. It was a sprawling, piano-rock slog that dealt with the terrifying state of the world with boundless whit and rare insight. Met with endless praise and catapulting him to the very top of songwriting world, Comedy was the fourteenth entry in Tillman’s long and critically acclaimed discography, and it would take him just over a year to add his fifteenth.
God’s Favorite Customer focusses much more on introspection and replaces the more John Lennon-esque piano rock sound with a spacey folk vibe. Lyrically, the album is nothing if not a masterclass in storytelling. He plays with point of view on “Mr. Tillman,” uses wonderfully accurate metaphors on “Hangout at the Gallows,” and brilliantly dances on topics of God and religion in the title track. If Pure Comedy perfectly captured the anger and confusion we all felt in 2017, this companion piece represents the dark, self-examining hangover we all seem to feel in 2018. We really are witnessing an incredible songwriter in his prime, and it’s a pleasure to call this album the best thing I’ve heard this year, so far…