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Best of 2018

January 1, 2019

It is a bit pretentious of me to create a “best of” list, but that has not stopped me from making a “best of” list for the last several years.  I am not an expert who is listening to a couple hundred albums a year, this is merely a list of albums I liked that were released in 2018. I recently saw another blogger refer to his list as “recommended” – that is a more accurate description of this list – Catchgroove’s 2018 recommended albums.

Most albums I like result in a review on this blog, thus my “best of” list is a bit of a rehash for regular readers.  Each of the selections has a link to the original album review. This year I have been busy and have a dozen half-written album reviews in my draft folder and so several selections on this list have fragments from those unfinished reviews.

I don’t have any unifying themes for this year’s favorites other than there are not a lot of newcomers here. Most of the artists on this year’s list are well represented in my collection – they are old friends (and several are several decades into their careers and still producing quality material).

I have started to look at the various year-end “best of” lists from music magazines, blogs and respected music heads. I am exploring these lists not because I am trying to benchmark, but to see if I have missed anything. What I have learned is I need to check out the Arctic Monkeys, the Pistol Annies and Parquet Courts. I also learned that I don’t need to be ashamed of my Kacey Musgraves obsession.

It is hard for me to have a single Album of the Year, so I will have a few Albums of the Year followed by several runners-up.

Albums of the Year

Kasey Musgraves –  Golden Hour (post) – Musgraves’ debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, from 2013, never hooked me. I am not sure what lured me into listening to Golden Hour, but I was instantly hooked. In my original post I warned: “this is sweet country pop, but the sweetener is cane sugar not saccharin.” She went from being a pretty conventional Nashville act into something special with Golden Hour (Musgraves credits hallucinogenics).  Without a doubt this is my favorite album of 2018.

Jeff Tweedy – Warm (post) – is a great example of an old friend on the list. This is the Wilco frontman’s first proper solo album and it is fantastic. I always knew Tweedy was a great songwriter, but I never realized what a great musician he is.  If you like Wilco, you are going love Warm.

Bob Dylan – More Blood More Tracks (post) – Bob is the oldest of friends.  This is an obsessive set of outtakes from Dylan’s greatest album.  Blood On The Tracks is a legend not only for its greatness, but the rumor was that the outtakes were better than what was ultimately released as Blood On The Tracks.  My take is that Dylan picked the right songs to release, yet these variations are a fascinating peek behind the curtain of how these songs were constructed.  We learn writing a song is hard work.

Miles Davis and John Coltrane – The Final Tour Bootleg Volume 6 (post) If you are a fan of Kind Of Blue you will love this live set from that era. The most fascinating aspect of the collection is that Trane had gotten too big for Miles and fortunately Miles was man enough to let it happen. My primary experience is with single LP (vinyl) of the Copenhagen show –  which is about as well recorded as a live album can get.  The stream and CD are for several European shows including Copenhagen.

Johnathan Wilson –  Rare Birds (post) is the best Pink Floyd album I have heard in years.  This album was in the most serious contention with Kacey Musgraves for my favorite of 2018.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Betty’s Midwestern Magick Blends. CRB often gets shorted on this blog. I am a fan of all their albums, but I have only reviewed a few of them. I have several half-written posts of CRB releases in my drafts folder including this year’s live release: Betty’s Midwestern Magick Blends. The album is culled from three shows in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago from October 2016.  It was released as a vinyl exclusive (3-LP with only 3500 copies). However, it is also available on streaming services. They mix songs from their studio albums with covers.  A great introduction to the band if you are not familiar with them.

Rosanne Cash – She Remembers Everything – Roseanne Cash is one of my favorite singers. She has successfully navigated through the Nashville star making machine and survived/thrived as an artist. She has played the pop and folk sides of country music. But mostly, like other “country” greats, for example Emmylou, she has created her own unique thing: Rosanne Cash music. That is: alt-country/singer songwriter/Americana with a touch of Laurel Canyon.  Somewhere along the way she decided to quit the Nashville grind and do what she wants and not what she was told.

Which bring us to She Remembers Everything. Like fine booze, Rosanne Cash is getting better with age. Her voice sounds like wisdom.  This album is as good as anything in her catalog – not bad forty years into her career.

Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth (post) – Kamasi released an even more epic release than The Epic. He is no fluke – he is the real deal. A triple album was not enough, Kamasi had to slip in a hidden album (hidden tracks are for wimps).

Albums of the Year Runners Up – in no particular order 

Greta Van Fleet – Anthem Of The Peaceful Army (post). If you don’t like this you don’t like rock and you are a pretentious a-hole. Last I heard, Led Zeppelin stopped issuing new material forty years ago. I am happy to spin these wannabes.

Thomas Abban – A Sheik’s Legacy (post). Officially released last year, but reissued on a major label in 2018. In my original post I said:

Abban has an original approach to classic rock.  Some reference points: Nick Drake, Jack White/White Stripes, Nirvana, Bowie and “Going To California” Led Zeppelin.  He reminds me a lot of Harry Styles, but he is more impressive, in that he does not have the industry behind him. This album was created independent of the star making machine.

https://open.spotify.com/album/7F4ADjnCEjGYSnGFjXCR6e?si=pGstio61Rh6BCszwjtl9KQ

St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Young Sick Camellia  (post) – is a nice progression for the retro soul man.

Paul McCartney – Egypt Station (post) – Sir Paul is still relevant and still able to craft perfect pop masterpieces.

Low – Double Negative (post) is on the more adventurous and artsy side of their repertoire.  Difficult music for difficult times.

The Internet – Hive Mind (post) – The Internet is a new band for me. My knowledge and experience with hip hop is pretty limited. But every once in a while I will trip over a hip hop artist/group and I am blown away. The Internet and this album is one of those blow away moments.

Circles Around the Sun – Let It Wander (post). Occasionally a lark turns into a real thing. Chris Robinson Brotherhood guitarist Neal Casal was tapped to develop some intermission music for 2015’s Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well mega concerts. It was so successful it was released as an album, there have been several short tours and now this new album.

John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (post) – I am always game for some quality unreleased Trane.  Not essential and not an appropriate introduction to the great man, but a treat for long time fans.

Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer (post) – a worthy follow-up to my number one album from 2017 (Pure Comedy). 

Caitlyn Smith – Starfire (part of this post)  – Smith is a fine songwriter from my neck of the woods.

Jack White – Boarding House Reach (post) – I have never been much of a White Stripes fan, but I get the idea. I have enjoyed Jack White’s solo work and various projects. Boarding House Reach may be his weirdest outing yet. In my original post I said:

“The album is weird, but not unlistenable weird. Jack White is a certified weirdo; weird is his modus operandi. He is fun and interesting weird.”

https://open.spotify.com/album/6btUx9G2BPajQ7P6mpTxId?si=AUTL_gsrQJuEZ28g_6-2ww

Robert Plant- Carry Fire (post) – Plant continues to innovate and entertain nearly four decades removed from Led Zeppelin.

Atmosphere – Mi Vida Local – It is rare in pop music to explore adult themes, let alone “middle-aged” themes.  It is a unicorn in hip hop.  Atmosphere has been doing it for several years now and proudly wears the moniker of “dad rap.”  I am decades into this life and I am especially fond of the 70s slow jams of my youth. Ant (DJ/producer born Anthony Davis) builds gorgeous soundscapes inspired by those 70s slow jams without being retro or derivative. Slug (Sean Daily) has great lyrics (more of a storyteller than a poet, which I prefer) and a musical – almost singing – flow.

Elvis Costello – Look Now – I have lost track of EC over the last several years. I had tickets to his show in Minneapolis and so I figure I should see what he is up to these days. I picked up the new LP at the Fetus and gave it a spin. Fortunately, he is as great as ever.  He is still making extremely sophisticated pop music. Interestingly his voice has gotten sweeter without loosing any of his patented phrasing.  Look Now is a return to the over the top arrangements of Imperial Bedroom with a healthy dose of EC’s love of Bacharach.

“I knew if we could make an album with the scope of Imperial Bedroom and some of the beauty and emotion of Painted From Memory, we would really have something”, said Costello.

Honestly, I had not read this quote before making my prior statement (Painted From Memory is EC’s 1998 album collaboration with Burt Bacharach). At 64 and after a recent cancer scare, Costello continues to be on top of his game. Imperial Bedroom is my favorite EC LP and so I really appreciate a return to that palate.

LUMP – LUMP – I didn’t know this album was coming. I was scrolling the Friday new releases on Tidal earlier this year and I scrolled back to the prior week and I discovered this new release.  I am a big Laura Marling fan. I never heard of Mike Lindsay, her collaborator on this album. I read his bio and I was hooked – this would be an interesting piece of art. I have listened to it several times now, it is good, real good.

This is what Joni would do: take something you have perfected and dump your reputation to do something new with jazz musicians. But it is 2018, so if you are Marling, instead of jazz musicians, you hook up with a folkie beat maker: Mike Lindsey. I have got to check out his band Tunng based on what I am hearing here. This is an amazing artistic twist for Marling. This is some Bon Iver/Radiohead inspired music. Marling’s performance is perfect. She was never a standard folkie, she has always been playing the edges. Lindsay’s sonic presentation on this album is brilliant folk-techno. This is a true collaboration.

I have always felt like Marling was a new Joni Mitchell, but this really puts her there.

Here is some nice pre-release hype:

LUMP is a heady blend of wonked-out guitars, Moog synths and pattering drums, set against droning, coiling clouds of flutes and voices. The lyrics are inspired by early-20th-century Surrealism and the absurdist poetry of Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler – a bizarre but compelling narrative about the commodification of curated public personas, the mundane absurdity of individualism, and the lengths we go to escape our own meaninglessness.

https://open.spotify.com/album/1JeRvTLK1MjFk7VSO0LSyQ?si=_GTQFJdhSeiHKKns2xDIQA

Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine – I have been a minor fan of Bon Iver/Justin Vernon since their/his debut in 2007. But when I saw Bon Iver at Rock The Garden in the summer of 2017, I was blown away. Here was an artist to be reckoned with. I am clueless about Aaron Dessner and The National (I have tried The National, but I just can’t get hooked). I know Vernon and Dessner have been collaborators for a while now, but I don’t know the details of what they do together beyond the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival.  This sounds like a Bon Iver album, but less weird, it is more pop and I like it a lot. Some of this could easily be remixed for the dance floor.

Neko Case – Hell – On – Hell-On is Case’s the seventh studio album. She recorded most of it in Stockholm, co-producing it with Björn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John. On her website she states:

“I’m writing fairy tales, and I hear my life story in them, but they’re not about me,” Case says. “I still can’t figure out how to describe it. But I think that’s why we make music or write things. You’ve got to invent a new language.”

The back story is she wanted to mix things up since she traditionally works with the same people, thus Björn Yttling and working in Stockholm. As the album was being finished she got a phone call in Stockholm that her house had been burned to the ground. Although the album was almost in the can, that tragedy impacted the final product (in a good way).

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens (post)  – Whoever’s idea it was to match up legendary jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd with a couple of unique toned guitarists and the queen of Americana is crazy – a crazy genius that is.

Mark Knopfler – Down the Road Wherever  – Mark Knopfler has been making gorgeous music since Dire Straits eponymous album in 1978. He is not about to stop now. There are not a lot of surprises here, just a master craftsman at work.  This is a nice sampling of the various styles Knopfler has perfected over his career: Dire Straits rockers, Celtic fusion, folk, jazzy ballads, blues, and country. All performed with Knopfler’s usual casual excellence.  One nice addition to his sound is the extensive use of horns – it is a nice pairing with Knopfler’s thick guitar tone.

And that is a wrap.  Looking forward to 2019.

 

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6 Comments
  1. I’ll bracket some time in the next while and be back. You always have some good stuff for me to jump into.

  2. An excellent list.. Lots I know and some to explore. Regards Thom.

  3. I picked up most of these from you during the year. Solid stuff. Yeah Elvis just keeps pumping out quality. Robert Plant? Same thing. You’re stuck with me for another year. Keep it coming.

    • Thanks for checking it out.

      • Again, my pleasure. Thanks
        (listening to The Comet Is Coming’s ‘Death To The Planet’ right now. Can’t remember if it’ was one of your nudges. Sure sounds like it should be)

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