December 29, 2018

Best of 2018

Pedro the Lion. Photo by me. More here.
While I have blogged less this year than any year in recent memory (statistically the lowest number of posts since my blog's inception in 2003), my connection to new music remains strong. I continue to love and obsess over whatever music is being released tomorrow, but I have far less time to invest in that discovery process.

When I have written this year, it has been more in long form, and not the short, quick blog posts of years past. Here are the two things I have written in 2018 that I am most proud of, however admittedly they will appeal to very few people:

Thank God I’m Full of Holes; What Scott Hutchison taught me about brokenness, love, God, and community

The Prayer Chain, Dakoda Motor Co., Pedro the Lion, and friendship

Overall my writing has been limited due to a major overseas move and intense personal challenges. Much of my "music journalism" has shifted to visual only through a new Instagram account. That was inspired by being reunited with my record collection after four years. I have already posted three "top-9" year-end lists there:

Top 9 vinyl releases of the year that I own:

Top 9 vinyl reissues of the year:

Top 9 album covers of the year:


A couple things have made this year in music for me different than the last few is seeing shows again with more frequency, and the amount of time I have spent listening to older music. These are interconnected, because all but one of the concerts I went to this year were for artists who were active in the 1990's. Thankfully nostalgia continues to be "in" which is great for me because I am about as nostalgic as a person can be.

Combine nostalgia with vinyl's popularity and the result is tons of reissues. With the number of my favorite 90's albums being put out on vinyl for the first time, my budget for new music is limited. The vinyl reissues are impressive visually, but I am reconnecting to the music again, and many times the songs I knew well sound way better than I have ever heard them before. Some of the songs, despite being 25 years old, have new layers and details I had not heard on my CDs and cassettes of the past.

But, back to the point, this is about new music--the best albums of 2018. The list is shorter and the details fewer, but I am going to push through and stick to my year-end tradition. After the top-3 the order honestly changes day to day, I could definitely foresee radically re-ordering these after a couple more years to mull over them.

Before I get into my top albums of the year, let me first mention my favorite song of 2018. Out of nowhere Mineral released a new song on November 5:



Despite the song only being out for less than two months, I have listened to it more times than any song this year. My walk to work is 10-12 minutes, and I will often listen to this song for the majority of that time. It is beautiful lyrically and musically, and arguably the best song Mineral has ever written.

It is still shocking the song even exists. Mineral broke up in 1998 and then reformed in 2014 for touring, but no one expected them to write together again. I was blessed to see them play in Italy in 2015 (and wrote about that and seeing them in 1997 here). Now they are touring again in January to celebrate 25 years as a band. There is a second new song coming along with a book and 10" record, releasing in January.

If you are looking for a great way to either (1) discover new music from the current year or (2) see what the top-ranked (and mostly overrated) albums of the year are, there is nothing better out there than Rob Mitchum's Google sheet. I have used it and referred to it for years, but sadly had much less time this year to read through it.

This year's mentions include artists from twelve states and six countries.

Top 20 albums of 2018:

1. Neko Case- Hell-On
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 8)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington (but has lived all over the place)

I discovered Neko Case sometime in 2004 through her vocal contributions to the New Pornographer's album Electric Version. I checked out the solo stuff she had released up until that point, but I wouldn't have necessarily called myself a Neko fan until the release of 2006' Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which my wife and I loved. At that point I did go back and purchase 2002's Blacklisted, which we also really enjoyed.

Overall though I have always been a much bigger fan of her work with the New Pornographers than I have her solo work. 2009's Middle Cyclone was OK, but not on par with Fox. 2013 brought her last solo album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, which I dislike and feel lacks direction or cohesion. As a solo artist I had honestly lost interest in her work.

Hell-On changed everything. Five years following Neko's last solo album, a dozen years since what critics agree was her best album, Neko releases what is by far her grandest achievement. Instrumentally, lyrically, vocally--it is all on another level. The textures and arrangements are intricate and complex, and more is revealed on each listen.

The only downside? The AWFUL cover and art. My personal connection of music to visual art is so strong that most of the year, despite how much I loved this album musically, I never thought I would rank it #1.

I highly recommend this episode of the Song Exploder in which Neko Case dissects the song "Last Lion of Albion. Terrific insight into the process for the album as a whole.



2. Cat Power- Wanderer
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 8)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia




3. Hop Along- Bark Your Head Off, Dog
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 6, including The Alternative's #1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania





4. mewithoutYou- Untitled
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl (deluxe ships in early 2019, so I don't yet have it)
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania





5. Thrice- Palms
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Irvine, California




6. Middle Kids- Lost Friends
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Sydney, Australia





7.  Emma Ruth Rundle- On Dark Horses
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2, including Treble's #7)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Los Angeles, California




8. Cursive- Vitriola
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Cassette
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska


9. Lucy Dacus- Historian
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 9, including Paste's #1)
Listen/buy on Matador Records
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia




10. Let's Eat Grandma- I'm All Ears
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 11, including Q's #2)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Norwich, United Kingdom




11. Mastersystem- Dance Music
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Selkirk, Scotland




12. The Innocence Mission- Sun on the Square
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania


13. The Aces- When My Heart Felt Volcanic
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Orem, Utah


14. Snail Mail- Lush
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 16, including five top-10's)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland


15. The Decemberists- I'll Be Your Girl
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Portland, Oregon





16. Wye Oak- The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland


17. Wild Pink- Yolk In the Fur
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 4)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: New York, New York



18. Soccer Mommy- Clean
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 12, including Paste's #4)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee




19. Say Sue Me- Where We Were Together
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Busan, South Korea



20. Death Cab for Cutie- Thank You For Today
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Seattle, Washington


Top 5 EPs of 2018:

1. boygenius- boygenius
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 11, Paste's #7. Shouldn't have been ranked anywhere due to it being a six-song EP; was incorrectly classified as an LP at some point in the release/review process)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Various



2. Hatchie- Sugar and Spice
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Brisbane, Australia


3. mewithoutYou- Untitled E.P.
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania




4. Waxahatchee- Great Thunder
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama


5. Tess Wiley- Femme Sole
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Giessen, Germany










Final mention: Manchester Orchestra- I Know How to Speak and various other singles and covers
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

While Manchester Orchestra's last album came out in 2017, they released a new song on average every other month in 2018, all of which are great. The most notable is the single "I Know How to Speak", but they also released the following:
"Blizzard of '77" (Nada Surf Cover)
"Bad Things to Such Good People" (Pedro the Lion cover with Julien Baker)
"The Gold" (alternate version of album track with Pheobe Bridgers on vocals)
"No Hard Feelings" (Avett Brothers cover)
"My Backwards Walk" (Frightened Rabbit cover)
"Allentown" (with the Front Bottoms)

YouTube playlist of all the songs Manchester Orchestra released this year:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0YbQuuz01k&index=2&list=

Most disappointing album of 2018:

Chvrches- Love is Dead
It's not that album is terrible--it is fine--but the digression in Chvrches' creativity is bizarre. It's as if the band intentionally watered-down the edge they had. Had I discovered the band today, I would assume this was their debut, and that their actual debut was their third album. Love is Dead is Chvrches-lite.

Concerts attended this year:

Nada Surf in Strasbourg, France
Waxahatchee in Detroit
Dakoda Motor Co. in Nashville
The Prayer Chain in Nashville
Pedro the Lion in Detroit
Over the Rhine in Ann Arbor


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