Saturday, January 26, 2019

Top 100 Albums of 2018: #100-76

#75-51 #50-26 #25-1 Honorable mentions All the albums I listened to
#100: Kyle Craft, Full Circle Nightmare
If Kyle Craft's voice and music doesn't give it away, his hairdo (see the album cover) will: '70s glam rock. You'll hear lots of rollicking piano side-by-side with the slide guitar riffs, all the perfect accompaniment to his pleading voice.

#99: Paul McCartney, Egypt Station
The old man can still whip a catchy pop-rock tune out of his back pocket and remind everyone that he’s a big reason why the word “Beatlesque” exists. Yeah, he can get sappy ("I’m Happy With You" is pretty but the lyrics slide a little too close to maudlin) but what do you expect from the author of "Ob-la-di"?

#98: Cullen Omori, The Diet
A catchy, if occasionally too similar, collection of Beatlesque pop. “Four Years” opens things with an impossibly catchy and beautiful chorus. “Queen” is a sweet little love song with grander ambitions.

#97: Hot Snakes, Jericho Sirens
Frantic, tight hardcore with a voice that just escapes the screaming that turns me off most hardcore. (Sorry: I get the passion and anger that drive it, but I just like melody and voice too much.) 

#96: Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You
Classic American songwriting (I've found myself using that phrase a lot this year) driven to a higher level by a great, expressive, passionate voice ("The Joke" is a terrific example).

#95: Cursive, Vitriola
Heavy music and heavy lyrics pervade this, the 8th studio offering from the Nebraska band. Corporations and the rich come in for particular criticism (“Ouroboros” and “Under the Rainbow”). The heaviness is a bit difficult to take at times but the angular approach to melody and vocals help lighten it ... slightly.

#94: Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel
In spite of being composed of three major Nashville stars, this album is country but not TOO country with a rocky edge and lovely harmonies. 

#93: Tom Odell, Jubilee Road
The pure piano artist has more or less disappeared since the heyday of the genre with Billy Joel and Elton John. Tom Odell is keeping it alive with his simple yet extremely well crafted piano gems, sometimes mellow (opener “Jubilee Road”), sometimes more rocking (“Son of an Only Child”).

#92: Ben Howard, Noonday Dream
Noonday Dream is more electric than Howard’s last album, but the same elements work well in this format: virtuous finger-picking with the guitar figures creating a very rhythmic backbone for his soft yet dark vocals, all coming together to create a dramatic and moody album.

#91: Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending
Swaggering dance-rock from the Scottish (now) quintet with lots of meaty bass lines.

#90: Molly Burch, First Flower
Languorous 1960s folk pop

#89: Dashboard Confessional, Crooked Shadows
Every year I’ll listen to a few albums from artists who’ve been around for a long time but who had somehow dropped off my radar screen. Sometimes I have heard previous releases but they didn’t grab me, either because their quality had fallen off or they simply hadn’t advanced their sound at all. Dashboard Confessional is one of those bands. I MUST have listened to them at some point since I last bought one of their albums (2003’s seminal A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar), but I don’t remember doing so! But I saw their name on the Spotify new release list and, lo and behold, I remembered why I like this band so much: the passionate and emotive singing, the strong songwriting, and the tight playing are come together to create a unique sound.

#87 (tie): Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing, and John Prine, Tree of Forgiveness
I can’t help but list these two together: two of the great American songwriters releasing albums in the same year, both with voices that were somewhat rough instruments to begin with and now have become even more constricted with age, and yet have gained even more character. You can hear every mile of road they’ve driven. There’s obviously a lot of grappling with mortality in these songs, but still a strong sense of humor. “Bad breath is better than no breath at all,” Nelson sings. Prine’s “When I Get to Heaven” covers similar terrain: “And then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale, Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long, I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl, 'Cause this old man is goin' to town.” Amen, Brother John.

#86: Wax Chattels, Wax Chattels
This is pretty wild experimental electro-rock, sometimes fast paced with a hardcore feel (“Stay Disappointed”), sometimes quiet and brooding (“Gillian”), sometimes lurching off in different directions powered by odd industrial noise (“In My Mouth”). You can hear the debt to Joy Division and New Order.

#85: Superorganism, Superorganism
This band that wouldn’t have existed before the digital revolution as they’re from all over the world and met online through various forums, although the band only officially came together when most of the eight members found themselves in London. Their debut album is funky and fun collection of pop-rock, sometimes slinky and sometimes sly. “Something For Your M.I.N.D.” is a standout with its .., whereas “The Prawn Song” captures a more whimsical approach.

#84: The Internet, Hive Mind
Smooth R&B and soul with low-key, sometimes almost Latin beats, sweet and often doubled vocals.

#83: Florence + The Machine, High As Hope
Florence Welch's voice and the sweeping orchestral arrangements have always been the centerpiece of this band, with her incredibly passionate vocals and the big sound sometimes overwhelming the music. (I remember writing a review of one album in which I wrote "This music makes me tired.") The more stripped down approach on this album is welcome and allows what are very well composed songs to come to the forefront. Sure the voice is still wonderfully strong and the music often ends in a very big place, but the build-ups are more subtle and the music is better as a result.

#82: The Record Company, All of This Life
OId school rock ‘n’ roll, as in the early days of rock very strongly influenced by the blues. Lots of wailing harmonica, stomping percussion, and emotive vocals.

#81: The Decemberists, I'll Be Your Girl
The psychedelic art cover belies what is essentially straightforward folk-rock. Straightforward especially for a band that’s veered toward prog rock on occasion and done song cycles based on Japanese folk tales, among others. They keep it simple (I’ve found the veering toward prog folk - a genre which is my total guilty pleasure - was handicapped by a fairly basic set of music skills) and rely on Meloy’s strong songwriting. Just one longer song, the two-part "Rusalka Rusalka/Wild Rushes" veers toward their previous concept album leanings.

#80: Colter Wall, Songs of the Plains
Add some crackling 78 rpm sounds to this recording, and you could be listening to the radio out in the country somewhere in the ‘40s or ‘50s, or sitting in a dusty country bar in the Great Depression. Which makes it even more shocking to discover that Colter Wall is only 23. From Swift Current, Saskatchewan. And the son of a former premier of Saskatchewan. This is total old school songwriting, just his deep baritone, simple guitar strumming, stand-up bass, and delicately brushed drums.

#79: The War and Treaty, Healing Tide
This band just absolute leaves it all out there on the title track, a piece of classic, tear up the house soul. If you’re not moved by this song, if you don’t want to close your eyes and thrash around, then you might want to check your own pulse.

#78: Ohmme, Parts
A very interesting duo whose voices blend in fascinating and odd ways. Their harmonies and quirky melodies work on top of a bed of sometimes guitar noise, sometimes rhythmic repetitive acoustic figures.

#77: Damien Jurado, The Horizon Just Laughed
A quiet, mostly acoustic outing from the veteran singer-songwriter, this lacks most of the touches of psychedelia that have colored his last couple of releases. Instead the emphasis is on his cool, laid back voice and tightly written songs.

#76: Lucy Dacus, Historian
Young singer-songwriter with a voice that's sometimes fiery, sometimes weary and sometimes dreamy. Often in the same song. Just really strong sensitive songwriting tied to good indie rock arrangements.

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