Favorite Albums of 2018
-Cloud Nothings – “Last Building Burning” – This is probably my favorite Cloud Nothings album since 2012’s “Attack on Memory”, and this band has started to solidify itself as one of my favorites of this decade. The standout track here is the 11 minute “Dissolution”, which is more than double the running time of the band’s typically tightly-paced songs but warrants the indulgence by floating across some of the finest riffs and grooves that they’ve ever produced. I’ve long wanted to see this band live, and this album feels like it is probably the closest they’ve come to reproducing their heralded stage synergy in a studio.
-Deafheaven – “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love” – I’ve liked Deafheaven’s stuff for a long time now, and their newest album continues their streak of dirgey wall-of-sound guitars married with jet engine vocals and just a dash of lighter melodic fare. In that sense, I don’t know that it is a significant departure from their past stuff, but rather it seems to incorporate and refine a lot of the varied styles and ideas that stretch across their catalog: this is something like a “greatest ideas” album instead of a “greatest hits” album, and it would work pretty well as an introduction to the band.
-Father John Misty – “God’s Favorite Customer” – I am definitely late to the game with Josh Tillman’s catalog, but picking this record up after reading some favorable comparisons to early 70s Taupin/John collaborations has prompted me to start exploring his past work. This record offers a nice blend of semi-ironic singer-songwriter schmaltz (which I’ve discovered is his go to type of schmaltz) with some truly catchy hooks and more than a few self-aware witticisms. It is all wonderfully somehow both pretentious and self-critical, and the early 70s vibe that cuts across the record suits it all quite well.
-Janelle Monae – “Dirty Computer” – I feel like Janelle Monae is something of a national treasure at this point in her career, and her newest record only cements that idea. Every track here sounds like it could be a top-20 hit, and she continues to blend afrofuturist narratives and queer aesthetics into her own unique brand of sci-fi-tinged R&B. If anything, this record seems a little less sonically and lyrically encumbered by some of the concept-album frameworks that structured some of her past work, and she seems much more “herself” here – which lends an extra layer of political significance to her songs.
-Oneohtrix Point Never – “Age Of” – Some of you will know that I sometimes enjoy making weird instrumental music with synthesizers and other electronic gizmos/software in my spare time. Daniel Lopatin’s newest record – much like his past records – is the kind of quality work that I’d eventually like to be able to do myself. I appreciate its barrage of quickly alternating grooves, abrasive noises, cleverly warped samples, analog effects, etc. – especially when they are so carefully orchestrated. There’s a compelling blend of improvisational dissonance and compositional melody going on in “Age Of” that moves a bit further towards the (for lack of a better word) “folk” influences found in some of OPN’s work.
-Sleep – “The Sciences” – I remember listening to some Sleep records a little bit in college and digging their Sabbath-inspired sound, so I took notice when they released their first record in about fifteen years earlier in 2018 and it started receiving rave reviews. I can see what all the fuss is about. Like with Sleep’s old stuff, there’s layers of heavy guitar and pounding drums across each song here, but the production values seem significantly better than much of their 90s catalog and so the nuances stand out more.
-Jeff Tweedy – “Warm” – I have resigned myself to being unable to place much critical distance between myself and anything related to Wilco, so of course I like this a lot. It’s a much more subdued record than probably anything Tweedy’s done in any other context, but there’s some interesting compositions underlying some of his trademark witty/cutting lyricism. It is clear he’s been holding on to some excellent ideas for this record, and sounds a bit like if recent Wilco stuff (e.g. “Shmilco”) were mashed up with some of the slower Uncle Tupelo tracks (which works better than you might imagine).
-Kamasai Washington – “Heaven and Earth” – I first got into Washington after reading so many positive reviews of his “Harmony of Difference” EP last year. This double album (which also contains an additional, hidden-inside-the-packaging bonus disc of material) is a fantastic introduction to Washington’s approach to jazz…one that I find especially compelling as someone who considers himself still a relative newcomer to the genre and who especially likes some of the more experimental approaches found in more contemporary jazz. There’s a range of influences and styles on display across this lengthy project, and almost all of them are worth digging into.
-Thom Yorke – “Suspiria OST” – Yorke’s first soundtrack is easily the equal to his Radiohead counterpart Jonny Greenwood’s best score work, and Yorke’s vocal tracks here are well crafted pieces that add a lot to the overall effect of this carefully-sequenced double LP. Sonically, this sits nicely between Yorke’s most recent solo albums and the last Radiohead album – not as experimental as his best side work but not quite as accessible as 2016’s excellent “A Moon Shaped Pool.”
*Honorable Mention: “Black Panther” OST, Nine Inch Nails’ “Bad Witch”, Arctic Monkeys’ “Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino”, “Hereditary” OST, Ryley Walker’s “The Lillywhite Sessions”
*Still want to listen to: Mitski’s “Be the Cowboy”, Yves Tumor’s “Safe in the Hands of Love”, Jon Hopkins’ “Singularity”, Earl Sweatshirt’s “Some Rap Songs”, Pusha T's “Daytona,” Travis Scott’s “Astroworld”, and about a half dozen more…