Best Albums of 2018

While we are all ready for 2019 to start, not all of 2018 should be forgotten about. It was an excellent year for some shining new artists and some veterans who produced their best work to date. As a result, here are the best albums of the year (according to a recovering music addict):

Listen to all the Best Albums of 2018: Apple Music | Spotify

Listen to the Best Songs of 2018: Apple Music | Spotify

10) Mitski – Be The Cowboy

Standout Tracks

  • Nobody
  • Lonesome Love
  • Washing Machine Heart

What it sounds like: carefully crafted songs that get fired into your cortex like a slap shot taken with hyper-accurate succinctness (most clocking in at less than three minutes each). Hard to classify as straightforward pop, the prominent bits and hooks get locked into your unconsciousness right out the gate.

Why I love it: punchy anthems that grab you by the shirt collar, toss you to the floor, and carefully dust you off–all before you can realize what just happened. This is suave and cheeky artistry worth assimilating.

9) The Magic Gang – The Magic Gang

Standout Tracks

  • All That I Want Is You
  • Jasmine
  • Fade Away

What it sounds like: the most earworm-worthy and addicting release on this list (hard to believe it’s a debut effort), The Magic Gang give a thoughtful nod to clean-shaven Beach Boys, early Weezer and even minor tinges of guitar influence from Strokes era stalwarts. But there’s a uniquely refreshing hint of British snark and maturity that will likely help their self-titled debut sound even better for summers to come.

Why I love it: the nerd rock torch was dropped a while ago (at least in regards to front-to-back albums worth mentioning). The Magic Gang somehow reignite the flame with hook, fuzz and harmony for one of the best straightforward rock records of the year.

8) Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

Standout Tracks

  • Autumn Love
  • Your Hurricane
  • Northern Lights

What it sounds like: Gibbard’s airy crooning prospers from gentle guitar melodies and atmospheric electronic tones. Thank You For Today borrows elements from the classic Death Cab rulebook, but also expands into different sonic territories, thanks to the addition of two new band members.

Why I love it: I have a special relationship with Ben Gibbard’s catalog–various projects have been in fairly constant rotation throughout the years–and Thank You For Today is destined to sit alongside their best work. It’s been both a challenge and blessing to be a dedicated Death Cab fan due to how easily they can become attached to dramatic real life experiences. Instead, Thank You For Today feels more like a dreamy serenade than a somber soliloquy.

7) Tash Sultana – Flow State

Standout Tracks

  • Murder To The Mind
  • Salvation
  • Big Smoke

What it sounds like: we wouldn’t have Tash Sultana without 90s R&B or Hip-Hop, but equally important are the flashes of Hendrix, Buckingham and a pantheon of jazz guitarists crawling through Flow State. This musical virtuoso can pick up and play over twenty instruments, but has the insight to leave space in compositions so listeners can enjoy each masterfully crafted moment.

Why I love it: bluesy and breathy narrative carries you through intricate guitar work and powerful beats, all written and beautifully performed by Tash. This is the cure for your Sunday morning hangover, an elixir of subtly lush yearning and provocative confidence.

6) Soccer Mommy – Clean

Standout Tracks

  • Your Dog
  • Cool
  • Last Girl

What it sounds like: with a vulnerable intensity that’s fueled by punchy guitars, Clean has finite pure moments but more often penetrates through your ears with a carefully disguised acid tongue. This is angsty guitar rock that rotates between impressive production and performance, both techniques used to highlight Clean’s dynamic elements.

Why I love it: there’s no doubting how well Soccer Mommy can sing with blunt honesty. As you dive into this album, you’ll think you’re feeling empathy for the authors long-lost love, when in reality she’s helping you look more closely into the mirror of your own failed romances. Label this one pre/post break-up album of the year and one that’s guaranteed to inspire a new generation of singer-songwriters, locked away in bedrooms for hours on end.

5) Israel Nash – Lifted

Standout Tracks

  • Rolling On
  • SpiritFalls
  • Looking Glass

What it sounds like: reflections of Neil Young, Wilco and Gram Parsons with luscious three-part harmonies lurking below a layer of Israel’s tender lead vocals. Slide guitar and pedal steel help bridge a path between the vibrant acoustic work and splashes of piano.

Why I love it: Lifted is the perfect album to put on while sitting by a warm fire, savoring a glass of whisky and taking in the mountain air. But it’s just as enticing through the trials and tribulations of everyday life–here’s a record that has the ability to lift your spirits and cleanse your soul.

4) Leon Bridges – Good Thing

Standout Tracks

  • Shy
  • Bad Bad News
  • Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand

What it sounds like: smooth as ever, Leon on Good Thing isn’t quite as distant as the one found on Coming Home like some reviews may lead you to believe–but this certainly is a new phase of Bridges’ career. Leon moves past the innocence of 50s/60s Motown and starts tipping his hat to other R&B influences more closely traced back to the 70s/90s.

Why I love it: Bridges found even more groove and control while creating this example of neo soul perfection. Recognition must be granted to the ultra talented backing group, with extra accolades directed at the rhythm section on tracks like “ Bad Bad News” and “Shy”. Good Thing is like a two ingredient cocktail—one part will make you move, the other will move you.

3) Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

Standout Tracks

  • Paper Cages
  • Feel The Love Go
  • Always Ascending

What it sounds like: pronouncing guitars battle against seismic choruses, loaded with tranquilizing backing vocals that slide in between Kapranos’ trademark howls. This one’s a party of snappy indie rock.

Why I love it: while the rest of us are doing our best to forget 2018, Alex Kapranos and co. are already looking forward to 2020 and beyond. Most may pass over this album while thinking it’s the same old mid-2000s indie marketed to meet the needs of today’s listeners. Instead, we’ve been graced with a band gravitating towards new heights and leaving behind the disciples who didn’t make it into the music streaming stratosphere.

2) Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer


Standout Tracks

  • Just Dumb Enough To Try
  • Please Don’t Die
  • God’s Favorite Customer

What it sounds like: Misty gets down to brass tacks on God’s Favorite Customer. There’s fewer quips than Fear Fun, more heartfelt memoirs than we heard on Honeybear, and a near-complete removal of the dismal world view found on Pure Comedy. These songs are concisely-constructed and calculated attacks on his own personal relationship fumbles.

Why I love it: Father John’s snarkier songs are undeniably enjoyable, but it’s always been the more sincere cuts that convey his full potential. Luckily, that’s exactly what we get here. On “Just Dumb Enough To Try” we get full-blown ballad Elton meets Nilsson, while “Please Don’t Die” begs to be played on repeat with the most impressive falsetto vocals we’ve heard from Father Josh. This might be his best yet (noting this is just the type of commentary he’d hate to read, and that makes it ever more important to write since it’s guaranteed to fuel his next effort).

1) Jump Little Children – Sparrow

Standout Tracks

  • X-Raying Flowers
  • Euphoria Designed
  • White Buffalo

What it sounds like: an elegant endeavor into infectious melodies and exciting musical arrangements. Jay Clifford’s soothing vocals glide across the speakers, pushing through with breathy undertones earmarked with gusto. The production and execution supersedes even heftier budgeted work from major league-level recording studios.

Why I love it: Sparrow is a valiant return to recorded music where Jump Little Children twist between variances of folk, jazz and orchestral rock. They’ve combined veracious lyrics with vital musicianship and tenacious rhythms to somehow breed an inspiring new form of baroque pop. If this your first foray into JLC’s catalog, you’ll quickly understand why you’ve been missing out.

Honorable Mentions:

Thomas Dybdahl – All These Things, Muse – Simulation Theory, The Coral – Moving Through The Dawn, The Vines – Miracle Land

About “The Best Albums of 2018” List:

The above list was developed to help readers find new music via the music service of their choice. I try to keep the commentary concise, only including the elements that I find most helpful when receiving a recommendation: brief list of my favorite songs, how each record compares to other artists/albums folks may know, and what’s unique (or what do I love) about these albums in particular. 

– Kenny Bringelson

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Vinyl View: Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

Cinematic jazz lead by a trumpet engulfed in purity, provacativity and unmatched prowess.  It begins as a romantic journey that develops into a dramatic apex and finally returns to a gentle, comfortable location.  More classical than the usual improv-based jazz that Miles Davis fans are used to.  

Let me preface this review by stating a very important fact: I am no jazz aficionado.  However, my qualifications for this review are as follows:

  • I own and enjoy multiple jazz records (including another Miles Davis/Gil Evans record, Quiet Nights)
  • I have always been extremely fascinated by 1940s Jazz, including Django Reinhardt’s two-fingered, French-Gypsy, swing-style
  • I believe that I have a good ear for understanding music that’s considered “different”, while enjoying modern progressive artists that reference Miles Davis as a major inspiration

Miles DavisSide I:

“Concierto De Aranjuez”

For the sake of this review, I have broken down this lengthy track into four sections – divided by tempo changes or other dramatic alterations

– Part I – 

The album starts with the mysterious clattering of castanets, followed by some distant horns, strings and elegant percussion that builds upon a slow cinematic experience.  Lead by Davis’ signature trumpet, the beginning of the marvelous “Concierto De Aranjuez” sounds like the start of a gentle rainfall. An elegant string section, gentle harp and perfectly supportive horn section join carefully placed hits of the high-hat and a muddled bass line.  This part of the song would go well with a cloud-covered walk along the beaches of Cadaqués, or any other coastal town in Barcelona.

– Part II – 

In the middle of a verse (near the three minute mark) the beauty is replaced by an outburst of electrifying sound, fronted by an aggressive array of horns.  As the beat changes into a swing, the mood is carefully altered.  Blistering horns and eerie strings support Davis’ provocative melody. The production here is superb – giving Miles Davis the ideal platform for showcasing his incredible talent alongside Gil Evans superb orchestral arrangement.  The end of this section sounds like a theatrical form of jazz with a dramatic eeriness (I’m guessing Sondheim may have found inspiration here for elements of Sweeney Todd’s 1979 musical score).

– Part III – 

Another significant development in “Concierto De Aranjuez” occurs right before the eight minute mark.  The castanets return as Evans, once again, alters the arrangement to deviate his orchestra into a new direction. Davis’ muted trumpet creates a pure sound that compliments the adventurous mood of this third act.  It now feels more like traditional jazz than any of its proceeding moments. An interesting bass line carries the majority of this section, until the climatic apex around the twelve minute mark.

– Part IV – 

Another intense outpouring of trumpets and other horns prelude this final section. Aggressive tambourine shakes lead directly into an anxious arrangement of brass.  A gentle array of woodwinds follow and seem to apologize for the previous hostility.  The listener is taken on a new journey as quiet becomes the leading element.  Davis’ signature trumpet closes out this track as the castanets return one final time – taking you back to the calming beach on Cadaqués. 

“Will O’ The Wisp”

The second track, “Will O’ The Wisp”, has a contemporary structure (especially when compared to it’s predecessor).  The catchy melody is easy to follow and the orchestra works to compliment Miles throughout the cut.  A soulful bass provides bottom something primarily dominated by high pitched trumpets.  “Will O’ The Wisp” feels more like an interlude than a complete song with the sole mission of preparing the listener for side two of the album.

Miles Davis Gil EvansSide II:

“The Pan Piper”

Side II begins with a brief declaration by Miles’ vibrant trumpet, followed by trailing flutes and breezy bells.  “The Pan Piper” is a great song that fuses together Gil Evans’ excellent sense of certain classical elements with upbeat jazz.  The real hero of this track is  found in the partnership established between the bass and drums which gives Davis the perfect canvas to sketch his playing upon. You’ll wish the rhythm track went on forever or at the very least, spanned the entirety of the track (instead of just the second half).

“Saeta”

If the Spanish military had a soundtrack, “Saeta” would definitely be on it.  Davis’ timbre is exceptional here as his instrument takes center stage.  But the rest of the song seems odd with a marching drum beat that dominates, droning strings and a horn sound reminiscent of a réveil from a bugle. “Saeta” is strange when set amongst the other cuts on Sketches of Spain and is the only questionable moment on the record.  It seems like there must be a backstory to this song, which could help give it context.

“Solea”

“Solea” also includes a similar military drum beat, but instead uses this more as a starting point, rather than the main basis for the song.  Maybe the strongest piece of work on Sketches of Spain, this final track has near perfect production.  A magnifying bass line fits in perfectly amongst the rhythm section.  Evans’ arrangements help to compliment Davis’ playing in a way that feels planned but not stale in any way.  For me, this is the song that includes everything I want from a Miles Davis record: a great melody played flawlessly by Miles, has both quiet instances and climactic apexes, and establishes a refreshing structure that is contained yet still feels improvised at times.  Listeners of “Solea” are guaranteed to start dancing or moving in their seat during the concluding moments as Sketches of Spain draws to a close.

Final View: Sketches of Spain truly is a masterpiece – but it also requires an asterisk (*): this challenging record is not meant to be played in the background of a casual dinner party, like some other jazz albums.  Careful listening is required to enjoy the moments of quiet beauty while the surprising outbursts of sound could send the wine glass of any casual listener flying across the room. Listener, consider yourself warned and appreciate this cliché – expect the unexpected.

Overall score: 9/10

Recommended if you like: Miles Davis albums, jazz with minimal improv, classical music