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. 

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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. 

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.

The 61st Grammy Awards: Thoughts and Predictions!!

Let’s take a look at the 61st annual Grammy Awards! Who will win? Who should win? Will Taylor Swift sweep it all? All the big questions answered!

Best Comedy Album

Who Should Win:Dave Chapelle – Equanimity & The Bird Revelation

     After a very long hiatus, Dave Chapelle is finally back with one of the most thoughtful and hilarious comedy specials in the last decade. He touches on politics, marriage, race, and even O.J. Simpson, all with the trademark Chapelle wit and wisdom.

Who Will Win: Dave Chapelle – Equanimity & The Bird Revelation

   After the long break and thanks to the massive amount of content he put out this year, Chapelle provides Grammy voters with something they love even more than a quality album, and that’s a great story.

Best Americana Album

Who Should Win:John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

   I’ve said on multiple occasions that this category shouldn’t exist, and should simply be folded into the country category. This is especially apparent this year with the rather weak field in both sets of nominees. The Tree of Forgiveness, however, would stand out in any crowd as one of the best entries in a legendary discography.

Who Will Win: John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

   The Grammys value popularity quite a bit, and Prine’s is the only name on the record with any mainstream recognition. In addition, the album contemplates quite a bit on the career of the infamous Singing Mailman, a quality the committee rarely fails to reward.

Best Country Album

Who Should Win:Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hours

   Here, there are two strong contenders, but I think Golden Hours edges out Stapleton’s record by an inch. It’s by far Kacey Musgraves’ best album to date, and the unique marriage of an orchestral pallet, classic pop-country songwriting, and progressive production makes for an ambitious album that deserves to be rewarded.

Who Will Win: Chris Stapleton – From A Room Vol. 2

   This isn’t a win that would disappoint me, but it’s certainly Stapleton’s least impressive LP and much weaker than its predecessor. However, Chris is a darling of the Grammy committee, having won last year with Vol. 1, and boasting a few other nominations this year.

Best Rock Album

Who Should Win:Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog

   2018 has been one of rock music’s best years in recent memory, this category stands as a shining example of how little the Grammys know about the current music scene. Of the rather weak selection, though, Alice in Chains’ most recent effort is easily the best. The heavy guitars and powerful vocals are a more mature form of grunge revolution the band pioneered in the 90’s.

Who Will Win: Fall Out Boy – M A N I A

   This is something of a worst case scenario. Only a decade after their seminole pop-punk debut, Fall Out Boy abandoned all semblance of rock influences and recorded one of the most grating, unlistenable LP’s of the century. Wouldn’t it be just like the Grammys to reward that?

Best New Artist

Who Should Win:Greta Van Fleet

   One of the more controversial bands nominated, I’m a fan of Greta Van Fleet, and I won’t apologize for it. No matter where you stand on the their originality, they’ve put out two very successful LP’s and played multiple festivals just this year. They’re the most accomplished nominee in this category, and they’ve got a lot of promise.

Who Will Win: Greta Van Fleet

   Regardless of the controversy, GVF seems to have accrued enough of a following and generated enough buzz that the Grammys would be out of their minds to pass them up.

Record of the Year

Who Should Win:Kendrick Lamar feat. SZA – All the Stars

   Record of the year is meant to reward the finished product of a track, as apposed to Song of the Year which rewards only the songwriter. With that in mind, “All the Stars” seems the obvious choice. The production is tight, Kendrick’s flow is as slick as ever, and SZA gives a powerful performance on the choruses.

Who Will Win: Post Malone feat. 21 Savage – Rockstar

   I can’t say I mind this song, and in fact, I love the album, but the production is slightly lacking and 21 Savage’s feature is one of the worst of the year. Regardless, this feels like a big year for Post Malone, and I doubt that will stop when it comes to the big four.

Song of the Year

Who Should Win:Childish Gambino – This is America

   It’s been a few months now and it’s easy to forget, but the entire country seemed to stop on a dime for a couple days when Childish Gambino released “This is America.” While the music video is the most important element to the song’s success, the lyricism and the brilliance of using trap influences as commentary in of themselves is more than deserving of this award.

Who Will Win: Drake – God’s Plan

   Perhaps I’m being a bit cynical here, but I can’t see Drake losing in a big four category, especially to such a creative and politically charged song. “God’s Plan,” was another massive summer hit, and it seems likely to me that it will bring home this award.

Album of the Year

Who Should Win:Post Malone – Beerbongs & Bentleys

   The Album of the Year field was particularly weak this year, but this Post Malone album is one of a few projects I could actually stomach giving this award to. Is it ambitious? No. Inventive? No. But it aims to be a collection of well made pop/hip-hop songs that everyone can enjoy, and it does that very well.

Who Will Win: Drake – Scorpion

   Again, perhaps I’m cynical, but when the field is weak, we tend to see the award go to a big name in pop music and there is no bigger name on this year’s list.