Well, here is the best of the best of 2018. The top five albums below includes two of America’s finest bands and three singer/songwriter types. My commentary for these will be fairly brief, as I have written about these albums before. Links to those earlier reviews as well as the records on Spotify are included for your reading/listening pleasure. I also have created a Spotify playlist that has all ten of these albums on it, with a link below. Enjoy!
#5 T Hardy Morris – Dude, the Obscure – 11 tracks / 46 minutes / Released June 22nd
This record finds one of my favorite artists looking both back at life and also ahead, and on its face it is a real downer. The man has made consistently great music for years, first as the leading man in Dead Confederate and more recently with supergroup Diamond Rugs (with Deer Tick’s John McCauley) and his solo work with and without The Hardknocks. But all the while, he has never gotten the appreciation or fame he frankly deserves, which may be why he chose the album title he did (a play on Thomas Hardy’s great 19th century novel Jude the Obscure, perhaps?).
I will definitively say this: Dude, the Obscure is his finest work yet, with its brooding and moody music in place of his familiar jangling guitar riffs, and it features the best songwriting of his career. Most of the subject matter may be less than happy but the music is organic and varied, loose and with plenty of space in between the notes – oh and we do get more of that lovely pedal steel.
On “Homemade Bliss”, a genuine love song and personal favorite, he sounds like a man simultaneously professing his devotion and frantically trying to hold on to someone who is slipping away. This line is classic: “Wherever it is that you are standing, that’s the center of the Earth; wherever it is that we are going, we’ve been going there since birth. A last request, no loneliness ahead… and I love you!”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4AB5NdnZWaQPyJdY7x3QqM?si=3XSsDhGKRhuLEP5afniPVQ
#4 Anderson East – Encore – 11 tracks / 40 minutes / Released January 12th
Dripping with soul, this is a truly enjoyable listen from front to back. The swagger of “All on My Mind” and “Girlfriend” may steal the show, but hidden gems like “If You Keep Leavin’ Me” and “Cabinet Door” are where he hooked me. The fact that he can do both as well as he (and his stellar backing band) does is a testament to his talents as a songwriter and showman, and I am still bummed that I missed his spring set at the Olympic.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/6EIlfHDKZxmDMjcaRbFj8d?si=ne8onHxHQrCi2GbNNAwxPg
#3 Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer– 10 tracks / 38 minutes / Released June 1st
****Shameless self-promotion: click on the link below to read my original review of this one. The best part about running this music blog is that I am quite terrible in describing and reviewing music, but this was actually a pretty good one. ****
“Sun is rising, black is turning blue; lookout buddy no one’s coming, Jesus, man what did you do”, followed by an audible groan, is one way to start an album. Thus begins “Hangout at the Gallows”, the leadoff track on Josh Tillman aka Father John Misty’s fourth LP. As usual, Josh’s songwriting is fierce, touching on politics, religion, human nature (see “We’re Only People…”), with a focus on his own inner demons (most notably on “Please Don’t Die” and the standouts “The Palace” and “Mr. Tillman”). Seriously, you guys, “The Palace”… oh my goodness. Oh. My. Goodness.
The difference this time around is that this record is shorter than his previous efforts and has more of a rushed feel. Also, it’s impossible to imagine a song like “Date Night” or “Disappointing Diamonds…” on his masterpiece 2017 album of the year, Pure Comedy. While this may not live up to that amazing batch of songs, it is a mighty powerful, fun, and rewarding work in its own right and is well deserving of the bronze for 2018. Each of his four Misty records have found their way to my top ten, which is quite an impressive run.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0hMPUtgjezv7gUsmhztvPv?si=06va58M3QEKZID9eTXLNwA
#2 Interpol – Marauder – 13 tracks / 44 minutes / Released August 24th
Going back to re-read my initial review of this gem, I realize just how much this has grown on me. At first listen I knew that this was good music, and had tons of that ol’ Interpol sonic charm, it just didn’t have enough variance and suffered a bit from Sameness Syndrome. After a few months and dozens more listens, I know view these songs as classics. When something works as well as Paul Banks’ haunting and droning vocals sung over his fantastic band’s signature sound, its okay to make an album that hits that nail on its head repeatedly, as they do here. This is Interpol, unabashed, and it is truly greatness.
While I cited the excellent “If You Really Love Nothing”, “The Rover”, and “Stay In Touch” in that original assessment, there are others here that are just as worthy: the catchy as Hell “Complications”, the relentless and quick drumming and spacey guitar riffing on “NYSMAW” (Now You See Me At Work), and the classic “Flight of Fancy”. As I said on my review, they have records with more experimentation, but I am not sure they have released a better, or more consistent, album.
Side note: this wins the album cover of the year award, hands down.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/1LINxDMagUFRCw8VYbLBGL?si=7WCsaw11SUanIxr8JJv_HQ
#1 Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog – 10 tracks / 53 minutes / Released August 24th
Released the same day as Interpol’s record, this was quite a week in new music. My review of this album was a bit long but hits all the right notes, so check it out. And if you are a fan of guitar rock at all, you absolutely positively must give this thing a listen. Jerry Cantrell also put on a great show when I saw him in October and all in all, he won music in 2018 in my book. Rawk on!
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4AAPRl8BKlsIVC5aeedlBv?si=MMw89ZtBSt-TuwIkmjN1_g
Top Ten Albums of 2018 Spotify playlist link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/77yEMJUE6f080656eDz2Xa?si=QDrp-otxStSCMkOJShuvgA
Top Ten Albums of 2017 Spotify playlist link, for good measure: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/5uyRQTfEpZGrLWyIaTP0DN?si=JCRgh6eMRyaM8_fofhcZpw