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. 

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Loretta Lynn Pairs with John Carter Cash For Powerful Album with Legacy Records

Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

     Loretta Lynn is a legend at a caliber that very few ever reach. She’s been a member of the Grand ‘Ole Opry for more than 50 years, featured in the County Music Hall of Fame, won four Grammys, and even received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2013. After a studio career that spans 41 albums and 55 years, Lynn is now reaching the twilight of her career and she’s doing so with grace.

   Her 2017 album, Full Circle was nominated for the Best Country Album award at the 59th Grammy awards, and having signed with Legacy Records, she doesn’t seem to be done yet. This is especially the case due to the recent resurgence of the outlaw and traditional country styles. Wouldn’t It Be Great released earlier this week and it is yet another great addition to her catalog.

   Lynn’s voice on this record is especially impressive, as she still sounds fantastic after her very long career. This is especially true on her higher, more open notes in tracks like “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For,” or the opening title track. She sings with a power and control that just doesn’t exist in modern country music.

   This is made all the more impressive by the fantastic instrumentation on this album, which is easily it’s best quality. Sam Bush’s fiddle on “Another Bridge to Burn,” is just pure bluegrass and the electric guitars on “Don’t Come Home from Drinkin’” set the perfect tone for such a classic of country music. The bedrock to all of this is, of course, Mike Bub on the upright bass who holds down every song with an active, leading bass line. This instrumentation, more so than anything else, is what sets Wouldn’t It Be Great apart form other recent releases from older country icons.

   This large band and wide pallet is masterfully helmed by John Carter Cash on production. The only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John is quickly becoming one of the best producers in country music with his simple but elegant style. His stereo imaging gives tracks like “Lulie Vars,” or “These ‘Ole Blues,” a very organic feel and he has a good ear for which instruments need to take center stage.

   While the album carries plenty of crooning ballads, it is at its best when its fun. Listen to songs like “Ruby’s Stool,” or my personal favorite, “Ain’t No Time to Go,” which take almost an Irish slant with the loud fiddle, mandolin swells, and excellent banjo work by Larry Perkins. These tracks are best described as foot-tappers, and they’re some of the funnest country songs of the year.

   Lyrically, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. “My Angel Mother,” is a moving and well crafted tribute and “The Big Man,” is a clinic in how to write religious music. On the other hand, “God Makes No Mistakes,” is a good example of how not to write religious music as it comes off as repetitive and answers few of the questions it poses and may be the weakest song in the track list. In addition, “Darkest Days,” one of Lynn’s oldest songs, repurposed for this project, shows it’s age a bit in it’s simple writing and rhyme scheme.

   Many of the tracks on this album are older Loretta Lynn songs which she’s re-recorded for this album, and most of them gain something from the update. If one doesn’t, it would likely be the closer, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” This is, of course, one of the most iconic songs in the country cannon, but nothing is improved by recording it again, especially since it was recorded as recent as 2012 before this.

   On the other end of the album, the opener and title track is easily the highlight of this project. Loretta’s vocal is gentle but powerful, Randy Scruggs’ acoustic guitar lays an excellent bedding, and the lyrics are very well written, dealing with a woman asking her alcoholic husband to “throw the ‘ole glass crutch away.”

   Loretta Lynn is one of the all time greats and her pairing with the John Carter Cash is more than fitting. The vocals are excellent, the instrumental pallet is broad and exciting, and Loretta Lynn commands respect in a way that few artists ever are able to.

   Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

8/10

HEAR WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Uk33jRr1FKDvYBDy8J3Xr