The Christmas holiday is over, unless of course you celebrate the 12 days of Christmas and/or epiphany. Regardless – the new year is just a couple days away, and as tradition, all music bloggers must produce their list of favorite albums in retrospect of the year. So, what are my picks for best albums of 2018? Read along and you’ll see.
Instead of ranking these from 1-10 (or however many items I decide to put in), I will list these albums in no particular order. Honestly – the whole idea of ranking albums, especially when different genres are involved, seems a bit like comparing apples and oranges, so I refuse to partake! Because I’m such a rebel! Ok, ok, I’m just indecisive. Anyways – here’s my list of best albums of 2018. Enjoy!
Juliana Hatfield – Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John
I’ve never really called myself an Olivia Newton-John fan, so when Juliana Hatfield released an entire album of ONJ covers, I was skeptical. Still – I gave the album a chance. An early favorite – Xanadu – sounds magical. While I would love to hear Jeff Lynne backing Hatfield (as ELO did on the original), Hatfield still did the song really well on her own.
Another early favorite, ” Hopefully Devoted to you.” Juliana Hatfield seems to recognize the schmaltz the original song gives us – and adds a little on her own. That being said – it’s a good type of schmaltz. It’s a schmaltz that just makes you want to sing along. Just like the original.
A track that grew on me, Juliana’s cover of “Physical.” I’ll admit, I kind of hate the orignal song. I’ve actually called out this song as “bad music,” and thoroughly lampooned the song. Still – Hatfield’s version just makes me want to get up and dance. Maybe even wear those pink leggings and jazzercise like ONJ did in the video for the orignal. Ok, maybe not.
If you’re a Olivia Newton-John fan, or a Juliana Hatfield fan, I’m sure you’ll love Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John. You might even find it – ahem – magic. Yeah, I went there. How could I not?
Screaming Females – All at Once
The latest album from Screaming Females might be their best yet, and certainly has earned its place amongst the best albums of 2018. All At Once is an album you can listen to at high volumes when you’re feeling angsty, angry and want to damage your hearing. That isn’t to say Screaming Females are just an angry band. They’re extremely talented.
Marisa Patermoster’s vocals and guitars dominate the band’s sound – especially on songs such as “Agnes Martin” and “I’ll Make You Sorry.” Still – while she could make a very successful career of herself, bassist Mike Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty certainly compliment this amazingly talented woman, specifically in songs such as “Soft Domination” and “Bird in Space.”
On a related note – if you get a chance to see Screaming Females in concert – do it! You will not be sorry. Screaming Females sound just as amazing live as they do on their albums.
They Might Be Giants – I Like Fun
Along with The New Pornographers and U2, I rank They Might be Giants as one of my all time favorite bands. Still – TMBG’s music the last ten or so years has been lacking. But I Like Fun broke the recent “meh” streak.
I Like Fun has a more guitar and full band heavy sound, as opposed to the quirky indie pop songs TMBG usually gives us. This works really well for TMBG. Still, I’m a fan, so maybe my word is tainted. However, Paste Magazine gives the album an 8.9. Soundblab gave the album a solid 10. So I’m certainly not the only one to rank I Like Fun as one of the best albums of 2018.
Of course – all the songs are dark, it’s not a TMBG album without a song or two about death. I like fun certainly delivers on this – with pretty much the entire album talking about death, the uncertainties thereof, and basic self reflections of our own mortality.
All in all – I Like Fun reminds me of all the reasons I love TMBG so freaking much.
Haley Hendrickx – I Need to Start a Garden
Portland’s own Haley Hendrickx might be the most promising new singer songwriter we’ve seen in several years. Her debut album, I Need to Start a Garden makes us hungry to see what she’ll do next.
Haley’s voice, both sultry and soothing, match her melodies in a way that evokes a sense of warmth and familiarity. A great example, the song “Worth It,” where she holds her notes in a way that calls us back to the sounds of childhood.
The track “Oom Sha La La,” brings us on a journey of her life. The track starts out calm, but as the song progresses, we find more insecurities, more fears, and eventual yelling the title of this album (I Need to Start a Garden).
Expect great things from Haley Hendrickx in the future! If her debut album is good enough to be one of the best albums of 2018, she’ll certainly be worth paying attention to in the future.
Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound
While I do hope Eleanor Friedberger and her brother Matthew reunites their band, The Fiery Furnaces,” I’m kind of glad Eleanor is solo right now, as her album “Rebound” really makes me happy. This is why I’ve included it in the best albums of 2018.
“Make Me a Song” specifically stands out as an anthem of warm fuzzy pop music feelings. Yet the listener knows the song is deeper than fuzzy feelings as Friedberger sings the refrain, “I could love you more.” We’re reminded that sometimes despite our comfort, despite our giddiness and seemingly innocent happiness, there’s still has to be more.
While all of Rebound pays homage to the 80s pop-goth sound, “Showy Early Spring” gives us an almost eerily accurate Robert Smith feel. I can honestly say I can hear The Cure performing this song! In fact – I wonder if Smith secretly wrote “Showy Early Spring!”
Rebound – as with all of Friedberger’s projects, makes us wonder what exactly will she be up to next. We wait in anticipation.
Stryper – God Damn Evil
Stryper isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you listen to one Stryper album produced in this century, listen to God Damn Evil.
The album starts out strong with the song “Take it to the Cross,” as we hear Stryper approach a thrash metal sound – a new sound for Stryper for sure. Some fans actually didn’t approve of this song’s sound, but personally I applaud them for stretching their boundaries.
Styper’s thrash metal sound is not the only controversy attached to this album. The song’s title “God Damn Evil” itself strummed up controversy. Stryper’s christian base did not like the play on words (even though it alludes to Psalm 109). The controversy seems reminiscent of 1986’s “To Hell With the Devil.“
Again, Stryper is not a band everyone will like. While God Damn Evil rocks, not everyone likes the resurrected hair metal bands, nor do they care about Christian lyrics. However – if you don’t mind these two elements – listen to “God Damn Evil.”
The Choir – Bloodshot
Some of the songs on Bloodshot just break my heart. Many of the songs on Bloodshot were written by Drummer / chief Lyricist Steve Hindalong as he was going through a divorce. Of course deeply personal lyrics are nothing new for The Choir – they’ve been writing confessional songs since the mid 80s.
The song “Birds, Bewildered” particularly gives me a case of the feels. Take a look at the chorus:
I think you were the one who said something untrueCourtesy of Galaxy21 Music
How the loving thing to do
Was to set each other free
My mind is kinda fuzzy, and it doesn’t much matter who
Maybe I said it to you
We set each other free
I’ve been through a few break ups, but never one of this magnitude. I hope I only experience these feelings through the art of others.
Another song of note, the opener, “Bloodshot eyes.” The song describes the feelings one has as they discuss pending relational issues deep into the night. While we assume the discussion is one of the conversations that led to Hindalong’s divorce, I can’t help but smile at the attraction the singer has for his partner. The first verse states. “I don’t mind how you sass me / just let me please atone /I wanna wrap my arms around you /And rattle your sassy bones.” Wow – that’s just sweet. Despite the fact that his soon to be ex wife is obviously furious with him, he’s still so attracted to her.
“Bloodshot” isn’t all about sadness mind you. “We’ve Got the Moon” gives us a poppy, happy number guaranteed to give you a smile. The song makes you want to grab that special someone in your life, and go out on the town – just the two of you. While I have no idea when this song was written – I do hope it’s post divorce, and Hindalong wrote it for someone new.
Sure – Bloodshot should not be something you listen to when you’re trying to be happy, but if you love a good confessional album, you can’t go wrong with Bloodshot.
Sam Phillips – Worlds on Sticks
World On Sticks is essentially a protest album done with style. The album describes the current culture (in the US), and asks a simple question: How far can we go before we realize we’ve gone too far?
The song “American Landfill Kings” talks about the nature of profit over ecology. “How Much is Enough” talks about our media oversaturation – how our obsession with social and traditional medias has taken a toll on our nation, and on our own well being. Then there’s the apocalyptic sounding “Teilhard, which makes us envision a world where we continue our environmental responsibility for a thousand years. A world where said irresponsibility leads us to the eradication of life from the planet.” Chilling!
Despite the preachy nature of the album – World on Sticks gives us a subtle message of hope. Yes – we hear a lot of booming, looming drums throughout the album. We also hear a string section from time to time – juxtaposed against these drums. A string section that makes us see a hopeful future – if we choose it.
Not only is World on Sticks one of the best albums of 2018, it might be the best album Sam Phillips has given us since the 90s!
Alice In Chains
Before this year, I really wasn’t an Alice in Chains fan. Two things changed that: 1) I saw them in concert – a concert that I could probably rank as my favorite this year, 2) the release of Rainier Fog.
The opening track of Rainier Fog -“The One You Know” is my second most played song of 2018. The track describes a relationship where the other person doesn’t actually know the singer – they just know the person the singer used to be. We get a real sense of AIC’s desire for authentic relations and brutal honesty in the chorus lyrics – “Tell me, does it matter, if I’m here or if I’m gone?”
“Red Giant”continues the desire for authentic relationships – and makes us wonder if the relationship is actually between the band and their fans. “Red Giant” wants us to know that the band has changed….even though they possess a lot of the same elements – they are not the same AIC we knew in 93, 2006, or even 2016.
Rainier Fog is evidence and a plea to us to recognize that Alice in Chains have changed, as all of us have changed. Rainier Fog is truly one of the best albums of 2018.
Neko Case – Hell-On
Neko scares me. There – I said it. We’re all thinking it, but dang it, no one says it! Why? Because she really doesn’t care what we think. Because she talks about blind justice – mercy for those who deserve it, and severe punishment for those that, well….
In the title track of Hell-On, we hear this message of blind justice. While the melodic nature of the song makes us bop our heads a bit, we realise “Hell-On” advocates karma as opposed to grace. She uses her own “Voice” as a metaphor – saying her voice will be Captured and “Re-spooled as ruin /To be used at a different time.” Even she will be judged.
“The Curse of the I-5 corridor” holds a natural appeal to me, as I live right off of said corridor. Although – as I dive into (or drive onto) the music, I realize this song also calls up the aspect of karma over grace. “The Curse of the I-5 Corridor” again uses Neko’s life (her real life or a fictionalized version) to illustrate this point. This time – instead of Neko’s voice, it’s her past mistakes. The things she did when she was young….the things that have caught up to her now.
It would be criminal to not talk about the cover (or rather retooling) of “Sleep all Summer” by Crooked Fingers. The song is a duet with Eric Bachmann (who wrote the song). While the beauty of the original makes me melt every time I hear it, adding Neko’s vocals makes the song even more beautiful. This is a semi impossible feat mind you! Once more – the minimalist instrumentation on the retelling of the song adds to the beauty. If you listen to one cover (or retooling or whatever you want to say this song is), listen to “Sleep All Summer.”
And if you listen to one alt-country album this year – listen to Hell-On. It’s certainly one of the best albums of 2018.
Best albums of 2018 – Honorable mentions
There’s a few albums I really enjoyed that just didn’t seem to fit the best albums of 2019 list, but dang it – you still need to hear them. Or at least know they exist.
The first best albums of 2018: honorable mention is a compilation of covers. Dr. Demento “Covered in Punk” has a bunch of punk (or punk adjacent) bands doing covers of songs found on The Dr. Demento Show. This album also has artists who you would find on the Dr. Demento show doing covers of punk songs.
A few notable highlights: Weird Al covering the Ramones, “Beat on the Brat,” The Vandals covering “National Brotherhood Week,” Osaka Popstar covering “Fish Heads” and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts covering “Science Fiction / Double Feature” (from the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Dr. Demento Covered in Punk is two hours of fun music, and worth a listen.
The second best albums of 2018: honorable mention goes to Crash Test Dude (Live) by the Crash Test Dummies. The album is basically a string of tongue in cheek covers, and bad jokes. I laughed so hard when I first heard discovered Crash Test Dude (Live), and still laugh when I hear the songs.
Even when The Crash Test Dummies do one of their own songs, they’re tongue in cheek about it. A great example, “Mmm, mmm, Mmm” finds us in the middle of a rant about how the song was used in a French cheese commercial – the cheese company ignored the dark nature of the song just so they could use the chorus to sell brei.
Just don’t play Crash Test Dude (Live) with kids around…some of these jokes are very R rated.
What will 2019 hold?
As the new year comes – I anticipate a lot of great music. The New Pornographers are in the studio again, so chances are they’ll release something late 2019. Ladytron, Over the Rhine, and Pedro The Lion have all stated forthcoming albums coming in 2019, and all have teased some amazing tracks. The Mountain Goats dropped a few tracks this year – we have to wonder if these tracks are part of a forthcoming album. Given that I love all five of these artists, I wouldn’t be too surprised if I have half of my 2019 best of list already written – but hopefully there will be a few surprise albums as well.
Hopefully you, and all your friends will be reading my best of 2019 list too. If you want to know a few songs that are bound to make it, why not follow Audioperfecta on Twitter and Facebook? I post several songs a week – including new songs.
By the way – I’ll be dropping a best of playlist, including some tracks from this list, as well as tracks not mentioned here, on New Years Eve. So stay tuned for that!
Happy New Year!