Five Albums That Would Get a 10/10

I always want to talk about these great records, and I just can’t find enough excuses! So here’s Five Albums That Would Get a 10/10!

IDLESJoy as an Act of Resistance (2018)

Putting the list in chronological order means that our first pick is my choice for 2018’s album of the year, IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance. I’ve said quite a lot about this album, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Drawing from perhaps the most embattled, controversial, and often violent sub-genres in music history, this punk record uses the traditional staples of thrashing guitars, rolling bass, and high energy to craft music that stands up to any one of the punk greats of the 70’s and 80’s. This sets a baseline for Joe Talbot’s lyricism, music on masculinity and all it’s impacts on the modern world. It’s prescient, it’s powerful, it’s hopeful, and above all, it’s perfect.

Kendrick LamarTo Pimp A Butterfly (2015)

It’s hard to believe that we’re fast approaching the fourth anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s seminal, jazz-rap masterpiece, but here we are. TPAB achieved levels of storytelling which haven’t been matched in rap music before or since and it did that by selling every ounce of the record to the story. The instrumentation is helmed by Kamasi Washington who would go on to release his own debut album two months later. Throughout, each beat incorporates elements of funk, jazz, Africana, soul, boom-bap, rock, and much more. It’s a musical tour-de-force through the history of African American popular music which is only outshined by K-dot’s lyricism.

Telling the story of a young rapper breaking down on tour and returning home to the streets that made him, Lamar dances between the metaphor and the literal, the jarring and the thoughtful, love and hate, all with an eye for the larger picture while not making a single bad track out of the 16. The story ultimately serves as a contemplation on the plight of the African American community in modern America. Is it honorable to thrive while your community suffers? Can an African American ever thrive without selling out struggles they endured? Will the community ever rise above their oppression and how? These questions and more Kendrick asks with remarkable clarity and don’t even get me started on the production. TPAB feels like a living, breathing conversation, and in that sense, it’s perfect.

Jason IsbellSoutheastern (2013)

When Jason Isbell, the resident bad boy of The Drive-By Truckers, was released from the band in 2007 and entered rehab in 2012, he seemed to be an extremely tragic case of one of the greatest young songwriters of a generation who just couldn’t hold it all together. Instead, he emerged a new, sober man, married then-girlfriend Amanda Shires, and released 2013’s Southeastern, adorned with a very simplistic picture of himself staring forward. Southeastern was Isbell’s contemplation on getting sober, growing up, and most of all, on change. It is one of the most moving and honest albums ever written.

With its opener, “Cover Me Up,” a love song written to Shires to assure her that he would get sober for her, the album immediately presented a new version of Jason. One which fully recognized his potential as a lyricist and artist. Throughout Southeastern, every single track is nothing short of pure poetry over chords. He speaks on the difficulties of leaving an old life behind, his fear of losing his love, and his excitement for the new life ahead of him. More so than any other album on this list, Southeastern lands here because it is simply a masterclass in lyricism from one of the greatest writers that’s ever lived.

RadioheadOK Computer (1997)

One of the most divisive groups in history, you’ll be hard pressed to find a music fan without an appreciation for this album. Coming near the turn of the century, OK Computer feels like the cold air creeping back into a room, no longer staved off by the burning fire that was the early 90’s and the grunge movement. The album aims to capture the apathy and bleak hopelessness of a generation, and Radiohead succeeds in every way. The instrumental pallet is remarkably broad, the production is almost robotic, and Thom Yorke’s vocals are whispish and often haunting.

It’s hard to describe what a cold and distant project this is. With mixes that bury and push odd instruments and arrangements keep listeners guessing by melding organic and electronic sounds seamlessly, Radiohead is able to throw a listener off of their center of gravity, so to speak, and inspire a viscerally lonely experience throughout. Lyrics about the modern condition toe the line so tightly between story and metaphor that what anger and vitriol is drummed up will be immediately stifled by distance. As waves of largely unfamiliar sound wash over you, OK Computer lulls listeners into a bleak apathy like only Radiohead can.

Pink FloydThe Wall (1979)

A very strong argument, and one that I would likely agree with, can be made that Pink Floyd has anywhere from two to five “perfect” albums under their belt and it’s true that few bands ever have had a run like Floyd in the 1970’s, but since this list isn’t called “Top Five Pink Floyd Albums,” I’ve chosen to stick with The Wall. This is, among other things, the defining prog-rock concept album, introducing the idea selling out every aspect of an album toward the concept as very little of The Wall, save “Comfortably Numb,” sounds a whole lot like Pink Floyd. It was also, quite famously, made amid horrific turmoil within the group which likely led to their disbandment.

Nevertheless, the four of them crafted a massive work of art that strikes the heart like few works in any medium. Where Dark Side of the Moon focuses on life and Wish You Were Here deals with fame, The Wall is, above all, about isolation, both the factors that create it and the effects it has on the human psyche. Not content with the simple “love each other,” message of the previous decade, The Wall aims to explored every facet of loneliness and desolation, giving serious credence to the pains which make it seem necessary while honestly addressing it’s detrimental effects. Ultimately, when the masterpiece closer, “The Trial,” ends with the wall finally coming down, the relief is palpable, and any serious listener has learned something about themselves in the process.

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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.