Five Artists With Great Albums to Come in 2019

Here’s just a few of the great things to come in 2019!!

Tool

First and foremost, we’ll start with the most obvious choice. Maynard James Keenan announced over Twitter earlier this month that Tool had finished recording and were now only waiting on the mastering process to complete their fifth studio album. Their first release in 12 years, this album which is still yet untitled could be one of the most hotly anticipated rock albums of all time. There’s been no release date set, but it’s safe to assume that Maynard’s traditional format of Spring or Fall releases will hold steady.

When it comes to sound, it’s anyone’s guess. While recent albums have trended in a softer, more progressive direction, there is really no analog for a band as iconic as Tool returning to the spotlight after such a long hiatus. This becomes even more unique when one considers that Tool’s discography is essentially perfect, and that each member has actually been quite active outside the group, growing in their own excellent side projects. Despite the questions, though, I must simply fall back on the aforementioned perfect catalog to date, along with the incredible performances they’ve given both times I’ve seen them live recently, and say that this album will be well worth the weight.

Slipknot

The nu-metal juggernauts from Iowa have wained in popularity in recent years, but it’s worth remembering what heights they’d once reached. As a staple in the 2000’s hard rock scene and under the guidance of the legendary Rick Rubin, they were able to craft a sound which held onto much of the grit and grime of underground metal while weaving a plethora of catchy hooks and melodies that extended an olive branch to non-metal fans. This, combined with the gimmick of wearing horror masks during live performances, put Slipknot on the map.

That being said, all reports and interviews seem to suggest that the band is headed back to basics. Corey Taylor recently said that the new album will be “one of the darkest chapters in Slipknot’s history,” and that seems to be the case having heard the newest single, “All Out Life.” While the track features a bit of annoying electronic influences, the bulk was true heavy metal. Taylor’s screams are brutal and the guitar tone is the most abrasive it’s been in years. If the single is any indication, we could be in for a heavy addition to the band’s catalog.

Kanye West

Kanye West is one of the most divisive artists of all time, and he was incredibly prolific in 2018. In addition to his own solo record and an LP with Kid Cudi under the newly created KIDS SEE GHOSTS moniker, he produced multiple releases for artists like Pusha T.  He also released three non-album singles, one of which was an extended poop joke, and another was released at the Pornhub awards. Last but not least, he had a fully televised meeting with the president in the oval office. Put simply, Kanye West has placed himself at the center of our culture.

While I didn’t love the majority of his output in 2018, there is no denying the excitement of a Kanye album. While we will likely get one of the albums long rumored to be in the works, namely Watch the Throne 2, Yhandi, or Turbo Grafx 16, though there is really no predicting what could come from Ye. The one thing we do know, is that every Kanye release thus far has been miles ahead of the curve, influencing the culture for many years to come. We can expect nothing less from a Kanye record in 2019.

Hozier

Hozier rocked the music world in 2013 with two EPs which eventually coalesced into 2014’s self-titled LP. It’s an absolute masterclass in lyricism and vocal performance and has become a staple of the modern singer/songwriter scene. From there, we got radio silence for four years. Though he toured and released a few videos, there was little to no hint of a sophomore release anywhere on the horizon until, in 2018, he dropped Nina Cried Power. The four track EP was extremely well received and renewed the public fire for a new record, a request which may finally be granted in 2019.

When wondering what the album may sound like, it’s striking to think that, for all his critical praise and artistic ability, Hozier is still relatively young in his musical career. This was quite apparent on the new EP as he pulled in hip-hop and gospel influences for an entirely new sound. That being said, there are a few things we can count on with a Hozier record, namely, excellent lyrics, dark themes, and fantastic instrumentation. One can only hope for a second record that holds up  to his debut.

Richard Edwards

Aside from Tool, I’m far more excited for this album than any other. After shuttering the indie-rock group Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos, Edwards dropped his solo debut, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, in 2017. It was a sweetly arranged and well written contemplations on the divorce, sickness, and loss that he’d experienced in his few years between releases. He followed up with Verdugo, on the best albums of 2018, a darker approach to similar issues where he fully realized the orchestral folk sound he’d begun to experiment with.

Having announced a new release slated for 2019, there’s every indication that he could drop the best album of the year. His use of strings and other unique instrumentation has created one of the most fascinating and recognizable sounds in all the music industry. His lyricism is thoughtful and visual and considering the trend of his latest work, he seems to be on track for the best release of his career.

Top Ten Albums of 2018

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen! My picks for the top 10 albums of 2018! Thanks to everyone for a great year, and here’s to a fantastic 2019!!

10. John PrineThe Tree of Forgiveness

2018 has been a year full of legacy records, and few were more enjoyable than that of country and americana icon, John Prine. The Tree of Forgiveness is many things, not the least of which is a masterclass in traditional country songwriting. Each track is well-formed and buries its formulaic nature in a heap of heart and wit. We even get a fun feature from Amanda Shires on backing vocals early in the record.

Above all, the album is a showcase for a beloved figure in country music. Prine’s vocals hold the character of his many years atop the charts and his guitar work is as proficient as ever. Importantly, he avoids many of the trappings of legacy record, forgoing the sad longing for the past in favor of upbeat, enjoyable stories. There are heartfelt moments, notably in tracks like “Summer’s End,” and “When I Get to Heaven,” but they’re each softened by Prine’s persistent charm.

9. Kamasi WashingtonHeaven and Earth

The follow up to Washington’s 2015 debut, The Epic, Heaven and Earth is a sprawling jazz epic which fills a nearly three hour runtime to the brim. Intimidating, right? Luckily, Kamasi finds a way to make his music relatively accessible as well. The record ranges from fun and danceable to breathtaking in scope, never really feeling like a slog, despite the length. With the jazz genre having fallen off in popularity over many years, Kamasi is bringing the sound back to the mainstream better than maybe an other artist.

The instrumental pallet is a real pleasure on this one, pulling in choirs, theremins, congos, and a multitude of horns. On the other hands, the staples of his band turn in incredible work as well. The drums never stop and utilize cymbals better than any album I’ve heard all year, the piano is reserved, yet peaking in at the most opportune times, Thundercat’s bass drives each track along with a flare and Kamasi’s saxophone is just undeniably powerful. This is a forceful but gentle sophomore project from one of the most exciting artists in the jazz world today.

8. Post MaloneBeerbongs & Bentleys

Every time I start to think that trap is fully dead with no more quality records left to be made in the style, a record like Beerbongs & Bentleys comes along to reinvigorate it. On one of the catchiest and most successful albums of this decade, Post Malone delivers one fantastic hook after another, separated by well written verses and some excellent instrumentals. Tracks like “Zack and Codeine,” “Better Now,” and “Psycho,” will likely be large parts of our musical landscape for many years, thanks in no small part to Post’s vocal performances and several well placed features. 

Perhaps the highlight of this album, however, is the production by a massive team, lead by Louis Bell and Frank Duke. Each track is so well layered and benefits from a clear understanding of the sound they’re trying to achieve. This an especially apparent on the highlight of the entire tracklist, “Stay,” which wonderfully blends folk music with trap production. In the end, it’s an extremely listenable album with high replay value which we’ll talk about for many years to come.

7. Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Following a long and critically acclaimed career, the Monkeys announcement of an upcoming 2018 album left me wondering if they’d continue in the vain of their traditional, blues-inspired garage rock or pull in a few outside influences. I could’ve never expected something like this. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino takes a hard left turn into psychedelic and glam rock territory with full confidence and the new sound benefits the band well.

Alex Turner’s vocals are especially excellent here, channelling his inner David Bowie to deliver a smokey and intriguing performance on every track. Additionally, much of the band took something of a backseat, trading in the guitar heavy sound of the past for a more atmospheric tone, which means that when the guitar finally roars in, each solo is impactful and well placed. Chiefly, TBHC has a tangible space to it and feels like a sonic profile of a real place.

6. Florence + The MachineHigh as Hope

Another simple album, High as Hope is the fourth studio album from Florence + The Machine, having established themselves as alt-rock powerhouses in the previous, indie-centric era. Here, they don’t aim to reinvent the wheel, but instead craft an enjoyable piece of orchestral pop-rock. The drums are very well produced and, though the pallet leaves a bit to be desired, the majority of instrumentation is quite excellent.

All of this is secondary, however, to Florence Welch’s remarkable performance as lead vocalist. She’s remarkably powerful on tracks like “Big God,” and yet sweet and gentle on “June.” Her phenomenal control lets her bring her Irish influences to the front in the form of a multitude of tight runs and she’s so dynamic that she’s able to paint thoughtful melodies over the various tracks, never once seeming to repeat herself or run out of ideas. The group doesn’t let their ambition outrun themselves, but instead create a high quality version of the sound that’s brought them massive success.

5. NonameRoom 25

One of the most surprising releases of the year, Noname’s theme heavy, jazz-rap album is starkly gorgeous. Her poetry background means that every single verse is jam-packed with wordy soliloquies that rely on a softer tone and flow to fit in the timing. After finding some mainstream acclaim with a feature on Chance the Rapper’s 2016 LP, Coloring Book, Noname finally realizes her potential two years later with this album.

Themes like race, feminism, and inequality bleed through this album, boldly informing her writing throughout, as is the case with much of the art that comes out of Chicago. The drum work is nothing short of incredible, setting complex grooves throughout and leading along an impressive team of instrumentalists, all of whom sound incredible thanks to great production, especially for an independent release. In an oddly weak year for rap music, Room 25 was a thoughtful commentary on the modern world and a fun listen all in one.

4. Richard EdwardsVerdugo

After ending his supremely successful run as the frontman of the indie rock outfit, Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s and recovering from worrisome medical issues, Richard Edwards finally returned in 2017 with Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, his first solo release which promised the release of a sister album this year. While I expected a lot from the follow up, Verdugo crushed every expectation and stands as one of my favorite Edwards project to date.

The album continues, stylistically, where LCCS left off, but this time fleshing out the unique, orchestral folk sound much better. The songwriting is excellent here as well, both in terms of lyricism and hooks, with each song taking turns sticking in your head. Richard’s vocals are simply stunning on this record, especially on the more intimate second half, with “Something Wicked,” being one of my favorite tracks in his entire catalog. Last year’s project landed in the top ten of my 2017 list, but with Verdugo, he cracks my top five for the first time.

3. Father John MistyGod’s Favorite Customer

His fourth studio record and less than a year after his 2017 masterpiece, Pure Comedy, Father John Misty has established himself as one of the foremost songwriters of this decade. While Comedy took a frigid and cynical dive into the horrors of the modern world, God’s Favorite Customer is self-reflective and contemplative. He touches on alcoholism, maturity, loneliness, and much more in a terse runtime that never once feels either bloated or underdeveloped.

Misty is one of the best lyricists writing right now, and he proves that repeatedly on this album. “The Songwriter,” is a moving tribute to the medium of songwriting itself, while “Mr. Tillman,” is a snarky retelling of his own bender is through the eyes of a hotel employee. The way he toys with metaphor, point of view, and tone is fascinating and shows him to be a seriously elite writer. Ultimately, God’s Favorite Customer may not feel quite as prescient as its predecessor, but it’s still a masterclass in songwriting and a remarkable achievement, considering the quick turnaround time.

2. DaughtersYou Won’t Get What You Want

When it came to ranking this years releases, there were exactly two albums that had a shot at the top spot and, in the end, You Won’t Get What You Want came up just a hair short. Once an extreme metal band with songs lasting about 60 seconds, Daughters had blossomed into one of the most unique acts in all of hard rock by the time of their self-titled farewell record eight years ago. Upon their revival this year, however, the band gave us one of the inexplicable music experiences of 2018.

You Won’t Get What You Want incorporates elements of doom, industrial, grunge, punk and a multitude of other sounds to craft an unforgiving soundtrack with a particularly bleak outlook on the world. The lyrics are almost poe-esque horror stories, each conveying some vague sense of impending annihilation, telling succinct tales in of themselves while also having far reaching implications on the political and social landscape of our time. It’s unpredictable, it’s engulfing, it’s terrifying, and yet somehow it’s intensely personal. Easily the best paced album of the year, Daughters slowly and methodically unveil a brutal hellscape that is every bit as sprawling as and psych-rock piece and will remain forefront in the minds of listeners long after the first listen.

1. IDLESJoy as an Act of Resistance

When it came down to it, there was just no other record that could occupy this spot. No other band has so adequately recognized the state of the world in all its glory and shame while providing a fun, singable piece of work. After bursting onto the scene last year with Brutalism, IDLES continued this year with the best punk record in 30 years. This may seem like sacrilege, but I would put Joy as an Act of Resistance up against the seminole efforts of groups like The Clash, The Dead Kennedys, and The Ramones without hesitation. It’s that good and that important.

The overarching purpose of Joy is to examine modern masculinity, worts and all, to see what is worth keeping and what needs to be changed. Short of quoting large sections of lyrics, it’s difficult to explain how well Joe Talbot addresses this topic, following as it spirals through topics like immigration, violence, racism, love, and change. The instrumentation is thrashing and powerful, but it’s somehow still overpowered by the lyricism and Talbot’s performance. In the end, having aggressively hacked away the blocks that exist in society, the record stands simultaneously as a touching celebration of the beauty in the world and a visceral attack on that which robs us of this beauty.

Joy as an Act of Resistance the first album to ever receive a 10/10 score from Brendon’s Beats, and for my money, it’s the undisputed best album of the year. 

A Perfect Circle, Lil Wayne, Death Grips, and More! 2018’s Honorable Mentions!

In no particular order, here are a few albums that got very close to making my top ten and why!

A Perfect CircleEat the Elephant

After nearly a decade and a half of radio silence from the Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel side project, APC is finally back in 2018 with a daring and unique project. While the album’s unexpected town and softness maybe have turned off a few longtime fans, I felt it was a welcome change and gave an opportunity for MJK to sing over more than a few unique instrumentals. Additionally, the lyricism was as thoughtful and the vocal melodies as singable as we’ve come to expect from the group, several tracks that land squarely in the top tier of their discography. The record certainly goes down a few dead ends and that likely kept it out of my top ten, but nothing feels better than hearing one of my favorite bands finally back in the studio.

Amanda ShiresTo the Sunset

With her third studio release, Shires brought back much of what has made her previous work enjoyable. Her thoughtful lyricism his here in spades, her husband and last year’s best album choice, Jason Isbell returns to lay down some excellent guitar work and her voice is, as always, a great mix of sweet and powerful. To the Sunset brings with it, however, a strong sense of concept and cohesion that makes all the difference. Every track feels like a chapter in a larger book, though each is still tight and well paced in it’s own right. Dave Cobb’s production is as wonderful and ever and the blend of glitzy, synth pop with more classical americana songwriting is perfectly balanced and forms something that I want to hear further developed on future outings.

Loretta LynnWouldn’t It Be Great

2018 was quite a year for comebacks and icons, and Loretta Lynn was no exception. Wouldn’t It Be Great does everything right from wonderful orchestration to excellent, tight songwriting. Lynn’s voice is still as radiant as ever and the production from John Carter Cash, who’s legacy as a producer is quite impressive beyond just his lineage, is vibrant and dynamic. The only complaint levied against this album is its lack of original material, with many of the tracks having appeared on earlier Loretta Lynn records, but aside from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” most of the updates felt interesting and necessary. Above all, it’s an album that genuinely stacks up against any project from her time on the top, an excellent listen for new and old fans alike.

Lil’ WayneTha Carter V

The wait is finally over, after legal battles, lean addictions, legal battles, and more, Tha Carter V arrived to massive fanfare and definitely didn’t disappoint. The very long gestation period shows as this album dances through the popular influences of last decade, from bling to trap to emo rap. A feature list that included Kendrick Lamar, XXXTentacion, and Travis Scott while mercifully lacking a Drake feature is a veritable who’s who of modern rap. While the album lacks the prescience and modernity of earlier Carter entries, it makes that up in its tour through the last several years of rap music. Best of all, Wayne’s flow is as hard hitting as it’s ever been.

The 1975A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

This album surprised me more than any other in 2018 as The 1975’s work had been rather unimpressive up to this point.However, it’s clear from the first few tracks the Brief Inquiry has fixed nearly every issue that had plagued the previous two outings. The instrumentation is glitzy, well produced, and even abrasively bright at times. Matty Healy’s lyricism is heavily matured and is, in fact, the overwhelming highlight of the record. The soup of cynicism, sarcasm, apathy, and drug references that he cooks up on this project is truly fantastic and it elevates an already good album to a great one, and by far the band’s best work to date. 

Death GripsThe Year of the Snitch

One of the strangest and most divisive bands of all time, Death Grips keep up their relatively prolific pace with maybe their most despondent and chaotic release yet. The Year of the Snitch is easily their least hip-hop influenced work yet, pulling instead from elements of noise and industrial rock, EDM, avant guarde, and hardcore punk. It’s really quite the experience, and it’ll need to be heard a few times before it can be processed Attempting to track the influences and ideas through out is a challenge for even the most avid music fan, especially as the complex mis of elements that exists is warped in the end stage by the group’s powerful absurdist tendencies. Nevertheless,  The Year of the Snitch is a must listen for fans of underground and extreme music. 

Top 10 Singles of 2018!!

If you’re looking for some good tunes you may have missed, here’s my list of the top ten singles of 2018, with a spotify link at the bottom!

10. Chance the RapperI Might Need Security

It’s been an odd year for Chance, now two years out from his fantastically dominant 2016 which culminated in a few Grammys. We didn’t get a new album, however, we got five separate singles released sporadically throughout the year, each showing quite a bit of development from the young rapper. The best of these was “I Might Need Security,” which used a fantastic Jamie Foxx soundbite on loop to set a beat and featured hard-hitting bars from Chance throughout. Lyrically, it’s a bit unfocussed, but punchlines like “Ain’t to many me’s, rest in peace to Vern Troyer,” and “boy meets world, everybody been savages,” make the track an absolute blast.

9. ThouThe Only Law

One of the most prolific bands in all of rock music, this doom/sludge metal act has dropped a total of five projects this year, including the Rhea Sylvia EP, one of my favorites of 2018. This track melds elements of doom metal, grunge, and extreme metal to create something that’s truly bonechilling. The vocal performances feel demonic over complex lyrics and the long, sprawling form means that each idea can be fully developed in all its horror. In the end, “The Only Law,” is one of the best metal tracks of the year.

8. John PrineSummers End

As my first peak at the new project, “Summers End,” stood out for a few reasons, not the least of which the fun lyrics and excellent melody. Prine is an absolute legend, and his approach to this album and ability to still write so poignantly demonstrate this. The highlight, however, comes in the sincerity, as the now aged country icon sings with conviction despite the occasional faltering of his voice. The track feels like an honest piece in the best way possible, and its that honesty that lands it on this list.

7. HozierShrike

It seemed many people all over the world were ecstatic to hear about a follow up to the Irishman’s 2014 masterpiece debut. The promised EP was quite unique, each track presenting something for fans to latch to. It’s his especially powerful ballad “Shrike,” that makes the cut here, though, as the soft guitars and organic pallet carve out plenty of space for Hozier’s booming voice to command the melody. He has total control on this track and he crafts a song that feels like a strong step forward without abandoning what made his earlier work what it is.

6. Father John MistyMr. Tillman

Following the massive success of his 2017 political opus, Pure Comedy, Father John chose to take a look at himself in the mirror. “Mr. Tillman” details the chronicles of a very drunk man wandering throughout a hotel, being constantly given assistance. The lyrics are snarky, yet heartfelt, dealing with alcoholism and addiction and even name dropping last year’s “best album” choice, Jason Isbell, all from the point of view of a desk attendant at a hotel where Misty is having a bender. It’s such a simple story told and produced expertly by one of the best writers of our time.

5. Florence + The MachineHunger

Florence + The Machine established themselves as a true, pop-rock powerhouse this year with their fourth studio album, the highlight of which was the second track, “Hunger.” The instrumentals are fairly simple, though the clanging piano forms a nice contrast to the grooving drums. Overall, the track is, essentially, a vocal master class put on by lead singer, Florence Welch. She’s powerful but not overbearing, each of her runs are perfectly controlled, and the vibrato on higher notes is simply perfect. This is one of the most listenable tracks of the year and it made for a fantastic single for a great album.

4. Pusha TThe Story of Adidon

Easily the track I’ve listened to the most in 2018, Pusha T’s response to Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle,” diss may be one of the most brutal of all time. We’ve seen two younger rappers lose embarrassingly to old school legends this year, but where Eminem threw a flurry of technical bars, Pusha T landed one massive haymaker after another on Drake’s chin, including the revelation that he has a secret child with an adult film star. Push later apologized, but the damage was done as the track shone a light on Drake’s weaknesses as an MC, which will likely not be forgotten anytime soon.

3. Blues TravelerShe Becomes My Way

If you’d told me in January that a second tier band from the 1990’s soft rock movement would release one of my favorite tracks of the year, I wouldn’t have believed it. Yet here we are, and Blues Traveler’s “She Becomes My Way,” is absolutely fantastic. John Popper’s voice has held up wonderfully and, of course, his harmonica is as rocking as ever. Though it’s essentially a simple love song, the lyrical style of longwinded, complex verses is fun to hear, even more fun to learn, and it leads to a very listenable flow for the vocals. I must admit that I’m sucker for this sound and era, and Blues Traveller is one  of my favorites from the movement, but to hear them stringing together excellent tracks for a genuinely awesome album is quite nice.

2. IDLESGreat

  I struggled in choosing just one IDLES song to make this list, but in the end, it had to be “Great.” The thrashing guitars, bombastic rhythm, and driving bass paves a nostalgic path directly to the incredible punk music of the 1970’s, from which they borrow quite a bit, including production techniques. Joe Talbot’s gravelly voice shouts lyrics about today’s political division, but best of all, it’s all positive. The track speaks to the importance of diversity and sympathy with quotables like “change isn’t a crime,” and “we’re all in this together.” The song ultimately carries the message that the world is beautiful, and that fear of the other is a grave mistake.

****HONORABLE MENTIONS****

  • A Perfect CircleThe Doomed
  • Death Cab for CutieI Dreamt We Spoke Again
  • Amanda ShiresParking Lot Pirouette
  • Death GripsBlack Paint
  • Richard EdwardsOlive Oyl
  • Kamasi WashingtonFists of Fury
  • Cardi BBodak Yellow
  • Dave MatthewsSamurai Cop
  • Greta Van FleetWhen the Curtain Falls
  • Post MalonePsycho

^^^^HONORABLE MENTIONS^^^^

1. DaughtersSatan in the Wait

Coming from one of the most guttural, horrifying albums of the years, this terrifying blend of noise rock, industrial rock, and post punk is, without a doubt, the best track of the year. The mix is daring, burying the vocals in favor of jarring cymbals and a strange, melodic keyboard. At once, the lyrics comment on the rise of division and extremism in modern times and the dangers of government overreach, pedal a remarkably in depth biblical metaphor, and tell a simple but effective horror story. This all over brutally chaotic music. In sound, in message, and in aesthetic, this album and track are horribly prescient.

HEAR THESE TRACKS: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0dvp6pZZoMhlnWOyXsXWkI

The 10 Worst Albums of 2018!!

Thought I’d take some time and have some fun talking about the albums I really didn’t like this year! Let me know what you think in the comments.

10. Kanye WestYe

Including this record was a difficult decision for me for a few reasons. Firstly, it hasn’t garnered near the universal distaste that has followed many of my entries on this list and I seem to be in the minority in my dislike. Secondly, it is leaps and bounds better than the majority of this list. However, considering Kanye’s long career of gigantic, meticulously crafted masterpieces, Ye is heartbreakingly aimless and meandering. At the end of a runtime that barely clears half an hour, listeners are left with nothing by way of answers for Ye’s recent antics or even an enjoyable piece of art to justify them. Instead, we have to stew with the fact that, after 8 breathtaking and diverse albums, Ye has finally let us down for the first time.

9. Sun Kil Moon This is My Dinner

Following one of the best releases in his very long career in last year’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, Sun Kil Moon made a quick turn around and seemed poised for an impressive follow up. Unfortunately, This is My Dinner fails fantastically. While the dreamy instrumentals and wide pallet are quite nice, they constantly marred as the man himself seems determined to mumble over them constantly while saying exactly nothing. When it comes to a Sun Kil Moon record, we don’t ask for active vocal melodies or catchy hooks, but we do ask for great lyricism, and when that is lacking, the project is almost unlistenable.

8. Kevin GatesLuca Brasi 3

Another entry in this list which received some sporadic, critical praise, Luca Brasi 3 is by no means unlistenable. In fact, if I’d never heard trap music before, I may even enjoy it. But after more than a decade of trap’s position at the top of popular music, the fatigue effects this album worse than most. This is because Kevin Gates does virtually nothing to differentiate his project from the tsunami of average, dime-a-dozen trap albums which is washing over the music industry at the moment. Snarky, braggadocios lyrics, trap cymbals, extended flows, we’ve heard it all a million times.

7. Nicki MinajQueen

Few feelings compare in intensity to the dread I felt when sitting down to a 70 minute Nicki Minaj album. Shockingly, it was slightly less offensive than expected, though it still lands here. While the instrumentals are, mercifully, more than mind numbing trap beats, they are nevertheless extremely puzzling, featuring strange pianos and the odd latin influence. Nicki’s trademark voices and accents are as grating as ever, though there’s a noticeable lack of her classic, high-pitched squeal, which is progress of a kind. Queen is just an overall unenjoyable experience which can at least be ignored, which is an improvement over previous work.

6. Lil DurkSigned to the Streets 3

There was a time when a new Lil Durk mixtape, particularly a continuation of the Signed to the Streets series, some of the best albums to come out of the drill scene, would’ve been massive news. It would’ve dropped to massive acclaim on Spinrilla and boast hard hitting bars and excellent underground features. Instead, it dropped on Spotify to virtual radio silence and featured the likes of Future and Lil Skies. In most cases, I wouldn’t even include this album on this list, and I’ve largely ignored the majority of Durk’s recent work, but Signed 3 is a disappointing conclusion on par with the likes of Godfather III, and I couldn’t help but mention it on this list.

5. Panic! At the DiscoPray for the Wicked

Speaking of artists that have aged poorly, Panic’s recent release is the sixth and worst in their discography. 2016’s Death of a Bachelor was the first time we heard Panic as a Brendon Urie solo project and though the absence of the other members was felt, there were enough unique ideas and Urie’s vocal was good enough to muscle the album up to a bearable level. Pray for the Wicked, on the other hand, is lacks all semblance of fun. Each track is a predictable, synth-heavy slog that feels almost obligatory at this point. There are no exciting vocal moments, no catchy hooks, just one uninspired attempt at a radio hit after another. It seems blatantly obvious now that Urie has outgrown the Panic moniker and the limitations that come with it.

4. Imagine DragonsOrigins

It seemed after last year’s Evolve, that Imagine Dragons’ career had run its course and possibly even overstayed their welcome. A year and another album later, this is the case tenfold. Origins makes some effort at interesting or heartfelt songwriting, but it’s so horribly stifled by the band’s need to write catchy hits for whoever listens to their watered down, EDM influenced pop, that these efforts are thwarted at every turn. The production is atrocious, zapping nearly all of the character from the lead vocals which are the record’s only prayer of an interesting quality. The worst offense, however, is the constant lyrical fixation on being an outsider and fighting the system, this coming from a band who’s debut album went double platinum and who’s music has flooded radio stations since their inception, chiefly because of their willingness to take underground influences like EDM and hip-hop and repackage them for mainstream audiences. This album is about as rebellious as the droves of Harley Quinn costumes that filled halloween parties this year, and it’s extremely boring to boot.

3. Fall Out BoyM A N I A

In a similar vein to P!atD, Fall Out Boy has been cashing in the good faith from their two good albums in the mi- 2000’s for almost a decade now with one vapid, overproduced, emo-pop album after another. With M A N I A, it would appear that they’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel. Soulless production, and atrocious instrumental pallet, and often grating hooks are just the start. The lyrics sound like the scribblings of a 12 year old FOB fan, desperately attempting to sell the illusion of edginess. Additionally, Patrick Stump turns in his most unforgivable vocal work to date. This is just yet another gratuitous release from a band that is so far past their sell by date that it’s becoming depressing, especially considering the special place their earlier work holds in all of our memories.

2. Florida Georgia LineFlorida Georgia Line

Granted, this was only an EP, but it was so egregious that it simply couldn’t escape this list.  When you start this album, there’s a lag moment, where your brain struggles to parse out what it’s hearing. Next, your body instinctively recoils, trying to defend itself from what it’s hearing. By the time you’ve reached the “acceptance” step of hearing a Florida Georgia Line project, it’s nearly over. I use the hyperbole because it’s difficult to point to one problem that lead to this, mostly because the answer is all of it. Vocals are comically twangy, the instrumentation sounds like a stock, country music ringtone, the hip-hop influences are atrocious, and the lyrics could be written by a country mad-lib book. Imagine a man in cowboy boots, drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and vaping. That’s this album’s target demographic. It is, however, mercifully short, which is so much more than I can say for my top choice on this list. 

1. Drake Scorpion

How did you feel when you heard that Drake’s new album would be 25 songs and 90 minutes long? Me too. Following a very publicized beef with Pusha T which Pusha ended with one of the most brutal diss tracks in rap history, Drake entered his album cycle, for the first time, with a massive blemish on his record. Scorpion could’ve been a long, stream-of-consciousness contemplation on Drake’s fame and the issues he’s faced. It could’ve been a hard-hitting push back against his detractors. Instead, it was musical wallpaper, much like every other Drake album, but this time with a larger budget and a 90-minute runtime. Scorpion is a giant tribute to the epidemic of meaningless, effortless albums flooding the industry today and because of that, Scorpion is the worst album of the year.

Top 10 Albums of 2018, So Far…

Here it is! Top 10 Albums of 2018, So Far! It’s crazy to think I’ve been running this blog for more than a year now, and last year, this list was only five albums! I’ve bumped it up to ten because I’ve done so many more reviews this year, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it! Thank you guys all so much for following what I write, and for giving me even a few minutes of your day to share my opinion! I hope I’ve introduced you all to something new that you love, and I know you you’ve introduced me to plenty of new stuff that I love! We got a huge second half of the year coming up for music, and I can’t wait to see how different this list looks in six months. Let me know in the comments what I got right and wrong, and like and share if you enjoy my reviews!

10. Come TomorrowDave Mathews Band

220px-Come-tomorrow-cover-art     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 HoursKacey 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.

Album_Golden_Hour_cover  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 ElephantA 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.

eat the elephant   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 ForgivenessJohn Prine

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 & BentleysPost Malone

Beerbongs 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.download

   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. VerdugoRichard Edwards

verdugo   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.heaven

   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 & CasinoArctic Monkeys

trank   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.

********************************Honorable Mentions********************************

  • Invasion of Privacy Cardi B
  • KOD J Cole
  • Last Man Standing Willie Nelson
  • The Year of the SnitchDeath Grips
  • Stranger FruitZeal and Ardor
  • soilserpentwithfeet

********************************Honorable Mentions********************************

1. God’s Favorite CustomerFather John Misty

gods   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…

Top 10 Albums of 2017

10. Harry StylesHarry StylesHARRY-STYLES

      Without a doubt, the most surprising project of the year, absolutely no one gave this album a serious chance, judging on Styles’ history in one of the worst boybands in recent memory. Public perception changed, however, after an excellent performance on Saturday Night Live of his first single, “Sign of the Times.”

When the album finally came, listeners were treating to a thoroughly impressive tribute to the great piano and soft rock of the mid to late seventies. What the album, admittedly, lacked in lyrical content, it made up for in a well executed vision, vintage instrumentation, and some powerful vocal performances from Styles. With each of the other members of 1D having split off to rather weak solo projects, Styles stands above with his talent and unique flair.

9. ProtomartyrRelatives In Decent

      By far the most interesting album of 2017, Protomartyr comes through with the third installment in their very unique discography. Relatives In Decent combines heavy punk instrumentals with experimental spoken word vocals for a product that every fan of great Rock and Roll simply must hear.PROTOMARTYR

      The record comes at an especially important time for Rock music as it undergoes a slow but necessary overhaul in its upper levels. A time is coming soon when Rock will be forced to decide between mainstream, accessible music and experimental or political tracks which may not net the same listener base, and one can only hope that Protomartyr will push the genre toward the latter.

8. Richard EdwardsLemon Cotton Candy Sunset

RICHARD-EDWARDS      Edwards rose to fame quickly as the frontman and founding member of the early 2000’s Indie folk-rock group, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, but after the groups final LP in 2014, he disappeared from the limelight. Save a few social media posts and a mildly successful rarities box set, Edwards was silent until the release of LCCS along with the announcement that his silence had been due to a divorce and a nearly fatal stomach illness.

      Fans of Richard’s more folk-influenced tracks were pleased to be treated to a few quiet contemplative tracks, while the bulk of the record was reserved for spacey, orchestral instrumentation which complimented Edwards’ voice and lyrics perfectly. This record is a must listen for fans of folk music, and the first installment in what promises to be an excellent solo discography.

7. Roger Waters Is This The Life We Really Want?

      Water’s needs no introduction, as the bass player and founding member of arguably the greatest rock band of all time, Pink Floyd. With the groups massive discography, it may be difficult for even longtime fans to know how to prepare themselves for this record, but the closest parallel from Floyd would’ve been 1983’s The Final Cut.

ROGER-WATERS      In his newest release, Waters’ is fantastically brave, opting against cheap, meaningless copies of his Floyd work, and instead delivering a complex and difficult project. With poetic lyricism which ranges from contemplations on time and death, to biting political commentary, layered perfectly over a range of instrumentals, Waters achieves one of the most coherent and interesting visions of the year.

6. SZACtrl

SZA      My biggest musical regret of 2017 was not listening to this album the day it came out, and instead waiting until just a few weeks ago. SZA’s debut record was a smash hit upon its release, with listeners drawing comparisons to the likes of Beyonce and praising the TDE artist for her gritty and well articulated portrayal of the issues faced by many young women today.

      The album benefits from the unpredictable, stream-of-consciousness style vocal performances which resolve into infectious hooks and ear worm choruses. Toss in some excellent features from fellow TDE artists like Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and Isaiah Rashad and you have one of the most organic and creative hip hop albums of this year. The grooving instrumentals and wonderful production just feels like an added bonus.

5. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

FATHER-JOHN-MISTY      In the godawful mess of a year that was 2017, the world of music needed nothing more than a biting satirical voice. That voice was found in spades in Josh Tillman going by the title of Father John Misty. Drawing lyrical inspiration from the likes of Lennon and Dylan, Father John comes through with one of the most sonically adventurous and lyrically daring albums of the year, and by far the best in his already stellar discography.

      The record itself boasts a massive instrumentation pallet, witty lyrics, and an incredible and consistent vision. Misty’s vocal performance is also a high point, proving it possible to be an excellent writer and performer on the same album. Pure Comedy earned Tillman a few Oscar nods as well, which should likely add a trophy or two to a career which is already impressively decorated.

4. Chris StapletonFrom A Room: Vol. 2

CHRIS-STAPLETON     Chris Stapleton had made a name for himself in the underground scene as early as 2007 with his group, The Steeldrivers, and later as the lead vocalist for The Jompson Brothers, but in 2015, with the release of Traveller, Stapleton was rocketed to superstar status overnight. The narrative storytelling, simple instrumentation, and tight harmonies helped, but put simply, Chris could sing the phonebook in phonebook in his signature twangy wail, and have a hit record.

     With his second installment to the From A Room series, however, Stapleton finally decides to stop leaning on his vocal abilities and instead to let his songwriting make or break him. This decision lead to one of the best country records in recent memory, with one fantastic story after another, until finally indulging us all one time toward the very end of the project. Assuming the A Room series isn’t over, I believe Stapleton may be just on the precipice of a career making album, akin to Jason Isbell’s Southeastern.

3. IDLESBrutalism

IDLES      Great news for fans of heavy punk rock came this year in the form of IDLES’ hard hitting single, “Mother” and the pink dress wearing, fine china smashing, music video performance from Joe Talbot. The record itself is crushingly forceful, sporting political lyrics, fantastic vocal performances, and melodic guitar riffs.

      The most exciting thing about this record, though, is that there is much more to come from the angry Brits. After a fantastic debut like Brutalism and a successful tour which is enjoying quite a bit of buzz, it’s safe say that we can expect a few more instant classics in the near future.

2. Kendrick LamarDamn.

KENDRICK-LAMARThis is a bit of a given. Since his 2012’s Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, every album Kendrick drops sparks the conversation, not of whether it belongs in the top 10 of the year, but only how high. While it is true that Damn. wasn’t Lamar’s best record to date, it is certainly his most accessible, boasting a notable jump in sales since his last studio effort. Kendrick was able to convince large swaths of the American public to buy wholly into a very experimental and socially conscious rap record, and that is a feat in of itself.

As far as the actual music, Damn. delivers a string of hard hitting beats and lyrics, as well as a multitude of unlikely features which work very well, most notably from U2’s Bono. The highlight was the writing skills on display, with many calling the album Kendrick’s most lyrical record to date. Along with a couple fantastic music videos and gigantic world tour, there’s a reason Kendrick is on top of the music world.

1. Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitNashville Sound

Probably the best songwriter of our time, Isbell is back in 2017 along with the 400 Unit with an powerful album, packed to the brim with shining moments. From the angry and politically charged, “White Man’s World” to the sweet, contemplative “Last of My Kind,” the record jumps from high point to high point, rarely, if ever dipping in quality.

JASON-ISBELL-AND-THE-400-UNIT

Everything works on this album. Amanda Shire’s harmonies are gorgeous as usual, and every member of the 400 Unit really brings their best to this project, resulting in easily the best of Isbell’s full band efforts. However, the highlight is still Jason’s fantastic lyrics. Throughout the 10 song run, Jason puts on a master class in lyricism and songwriting which was simply not matched again through the rest of the year.