Okay, getting started with filling out our personal year-end rankings for 2018. And, for the first time in many years, a tie at the top. I enjoy each of these first two records so much, I just can't pick one over the other.
We'll be adding 2-5 titles every couple of weeks to these ranking for the first half of 2019 until the summer release of of our best of 2018 mix collection, but as of now, here's where things stand.
1a. Wide Awake - Parquet Courts: In a soft year for exceptional albums, Parquet Courts' Wide Awake was a clear standout. The smartest and most lyrically accomplished album of 2018, it was also, with its vibrant mix of Minutemen, Beastie Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Pavement, and Black Keys influences more fun than any 2018 album other than its best of the year co-champion Confident Music For Confident People. Joining forces with producer Danger Mouse for the first time, these New York transplants opened up their sound like never before, producing, if not their best album (at times my vote still goes to the adrenaline rush that is 2013's Light Up, Gold), without question their most sonically and stylistically adventurous. Buoyed by fantastic rapid-fire lyricism that comes at the listener like 100 tweets a second, a marvelous, Paul's Boutique-styled lack of predictability, and some of the best shout-along choruses since Car Seat Headrest's Teens Of Denial, this album should appeal to just about any fan of hyper intelligent, funky, humor-laden punk/post-punk, and captures the helter-skelter psychological chaos of the Trump Era better than any album I've heard to date. It finished somewhere between 8th and 12th in most of the year-end aggregate polls, but I think its only be a matter of time with more historical and critical appraisal before this record climbs those rankings and is universally recognized as the finest album of 2018. Because it is. And fuck Tom Brady!
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Total Football, Violence, Before The Water Gets Too High, Almost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of Patience, Freebird II, Normalization, Wide Awake, Tenderness.
1b. Confidence Man - Confident Music For Confident People: There isn't an original sounding moment on it, its about absolutely nothing other than teen-bitch-goddesses putting the boys in their place, self-entitled wannabe rockstars, and getting high, and there's no question some of this arch-camp bubblegum-dance act's jokes fall painfully flat, but taken start to finish, I haven't heard a more enthralling party album in years. And talk about an album that builds! This thing starts at about an 8/10 on the fun meter, reaches a Tufnelian 11 at its midpoint by the glorious chorus of Out The Window, and just keeps climbing from there. By the start of final track Fascination, with its opening shout of "Can't get no better!" that's exactly how you'll feel. A beyond joyous, subversive antidote to all the over-choreographed, unattainably skilled, industry-backed, shock-and-awe poptimist Beyonces and Gagas and Grandes dominating the moment, this album has only two missions - to be a great, silly time, and invite the dorks of the world back to the party. I can think of no better compliment to pay these irreverent, rhythmically challenged Aussies and their debut album than this - it's so damn much fun, every time I start thinking about it, I immediately have to turn off whatever else I'm listening to and throw Confident Music back on instead.
Intangibles: Through The Roof
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Boyfriend, C.O.O.L. Party, Out The Window, Bubblegum, Better Sit Down Boy, All The Way, Fascination.
3. Double Negative - Low:
4. Joy As An Act Of Resistance - IDLES: England's most popular and critically hailed album of 2018 is in-your-face, old-fashioned punk of the highest order, and while the album may be a challenge for those who prefer their punk with a more melodic bent and a smidgen of instrumental variation, there is simply no denying the forcefulness and impact of this album's aggressive, cathartic streamlined roar or the brilliance of its urgent, cutting lyrics. The specter of Brexit and micro-targeted marketing hovers over the whole proceeding like an invading force that must be resisted, and resist, time and again, IDLES does. From punishing opener Colossus to the toxic masculinity bashing Samaritans to the diversity embracing Danny Nedelko to the fear of change trashing Great, Joy As An Act Of Resistance is a call to arms for anyone that refuses to let fear, prejudice, and bitterness be the ruling emotions of their life. The monochromatic tunelessness of the album's approach is the only factor preventing me from giving this album a highest recommend. Fantastic stuff and what will probably be viewed decades from now as the most important release of 2018.
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Colossus, Danny Nedelko, Samaritans, Television, Great.
5. Persona - Rival Consoles: My favorite electronic release of 2018, Rival Consoles' Persona, inspired by the Igmar Bergman film of the same name, picks a fittingly icy palette located somewhere on the stylistic spectrum between Caribou's Swim and chill wave darling Memory Tapes' Seek Magic, and then works that chosen palette through 12 remarkably consistent, moving, and memorably melodic variations.
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Persona, Sun's Abandon, Dreamer's Wake, Hidden.
6. Dirty Computer - Janelle Monae: Though the #1 album of 2018 in most aggregate polls, Dirty Computer is not Monae's best work. That honor still belongs to 2010's much more varied and higher peaked The Archandroid. What Dirty Computer is is a very effective shift away from the persona/science fictional story telling that has dominated Monae's work up to this point and into the world of personal confession and a Prince-scaled level of sexual frankness. In truth, from the similarity between the albums' titles, the black-and-white diamond lattice pattern that adorns both album covers, and the energy and vibe of the music itself, Prince's Dirty Mind informs and influences everything on Dirty Computer, and Dirty Computer is all the better for it. The album's first half is pretty much dynamite, the second half falls of so precipitously after Make Me Feel until closer Americans that it almost drives the album down into Solid Recommend territory. But in the end, the quality of its opening half, especially the gorgeous Brian Wilson-aided title track, the lively Zoe Kravitz-assisted Screwed, and the Prince-resurrecting Make Me Feel, is enough to earn the album a worthy strong recommend. More puritanical listeners may be put off by some of the album's sexual explicitness (though it's rarely as coarse you're run of the mill hip-hop album), but as a statement to freeing oneself through an honest acceptance of everything that makes one who they are (as opposed to just those aspects of our personalities we want the public to see), the album is fairly exceptional, and feels like the perfect cultural fit for these #metoo-dominated.
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Dirty Computer, Screwed, Pynk, Make Me Feel.
7. Golden Hour - Kacey Musgraves: The year's biggest cross-over country effort and Grammy winner for album of the year is as much contemporary pop as it is country, and it isn't as loaded with elite-level songwriting efforts as the ubiquitous gushing reviews would have one believe, but a couple of off-the-charts-great songs, starting with Slow Burn (possibly the best mellow song of the 2018 in any genre), clarity of tone, and an amazingly glossy, gorgeous production sheen help elevate the album throughout to make it one of 2018's most consistently beautiful listens.
Intangibles: High (for the phenomenal production work)
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Slow Burn, Oh What A World, High Horse, Space Cowboy, Lonely Weekend.
8. Isolation - Kali Uchis: Even though I consider Isolation one of the year's best contemporary pop albums and it's got much of the same production gloss sheen that hallmarks other recent poptimist standouts like Lorde's Melodrama, SZA's CTRL, and Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour, there is no question that the primary touchstones for most of Isolation's music goes a decade back to the excellent mid-aughts work of naught British retro-crooners like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. I found the whole breezy affair highly enjoyable, though I will say the standout tracks listened in the Cherry Picker's Best Bets are significantly stronger than most of the other material on the album.
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Body Language, Miami, Dead To Me, Feel Like A Fool.
9. Be The Cowboy - Mitski: Though the more broadly popular Dirty Computer took the overall aggregate title in 2018, no album in 2018 landed more first place rankings in individual publication lists than this one. And on one level, it's easy to see why! While very much rooted in the indie and contemporary pop sounds of its moment, on another level, Be The Cowboy feels like a genuine attempt to join the ranks of era-defining female Singer-Songwriter efforts like Tapestry, Blue, Court & Spark, To Bring You My Love, Exile In Guyville, and Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit. It's not quite as good as any of those albums, but the fact that it's fully worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as those albums is testament enough to just how high quality much of Be The Cowboy's material is. A much weaker final third and the few goofy, misguided arrangement choices that diminish a couple of otherwise strong songs are all the prevents me from moving this album into Strong Recommend territory
Intangibles: Above Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Geyser, Lonesome Love, Me And My Husband, Nobody, Two Slow Dancers.
11. Lush - Snail Mail:
12. Microshift - Hookworms: For its opening ten minutes, Leeds-based Hookworms' fourth release Microshift, which finds the hazy, organ-drenched psych rockers incorporating more pop and electronic elements this time out, plays like a best album of 2018 contender. Opener Negative Space is probably the best psych-rock track of the year, even despite some plagiaristic design similarities to Tame Impala's Be Above It, and second track Static Resistance almost matches the opener in quality. Two more fine tracks Ullswater and the atmospheric The Soft Season follow that killer 1-2 punch, and then things then start going south quickly and keep descending until closer Shortcomings, which salvages the back half of the record a bit. Still, the first half of this album is so strong and so damn propulsive that that alone is enough to lift Microshift into the upper tier of our 2018 solid recommends. It's an album that could have been the band's commerical breakthrough, but very troubling midyear #metoo allegations against the band's lead singer led to the band's demise this year and torpedoed any chance of year end recognition
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Negative Space, Static Resistance, Ullswater, The Soft Season.
13. Heaven And Earth - Kamasi Washington:
14. Room 25 - Noname:
15. Ruins - First Aid Kit:
16. Transangelic Exodus - Ezra Furman: I loved Ezra Furman's previous effort, the doo woo-anchored, Chicago-referencing Perpetual Motion People. Thought it was one of the best indie-releases of it's year. Transangelic Exodus has gotten even better reviews, but while I do like it, I personally don't like it nearly as much as PMP. Much has to do with this album's production design. For his odd Science Fictional narrative of a pair of gay lovers, one who has mutated and grown literal angels wings, on the run from government forces, Furman has adopted a scrappier, shriller sound that on one level feels like an ode to Springsteen's Born To Run but is also full of clanking production and piercing, cutting synths and guitars. Sometimes the new palette works, other times it really doesn't, and can become quite grating. Still there are a number of worthwhile songs here, especially the album's midsection anchored around confessional highlight Compulsive Liar, which really digs deep into the damage done to a gay man's psyche staying in the closet, and musical peak Love You So Bad, which not surprisingly is the most reminiscent of the material on Perpetual Motion People in feel.
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Suck The Blood From My Wounds, Compulsive Liar, Love You So Bad, No Place, I Lost My Innocence.
17. Marble Skies - Django Django: Though everything about London art-rockers Django Django has always felt borrowed, their blend of new wave, Dick Dale surf rock, 60s garage-rock harmonies (really great garage rock harmonies btw), and contemporary electronic dance influences has always merged into a sound uniquely and unquestionably their own. And at times, when they nail it, their music is fantastic, but to date, they've always struck me as more of a singles act than album artists, delivering two or three standout tracks on records otherwise filled with so-so material. Latest release Marble Skies reverses this trend, upping that average quality quotient quite a bit while hitting a slightly more electronic overall feel, but as much as I appreciate the greater consistency, those awesome peaks are sorely missed, leading to what is overall a decent, likable front-to-back listen, but little more. There are few minor standouts for sure worth hearing, especially the title track, Tic Tac Toe, and In The Beat, but nothing remotely in the ballpark of say the amazing Devo-ish Default from their self-titled debut. So a solid addition to their discography for fans, but for newcomers, check out the top rated songs from the earlier albums first. That's where gold really lies.
Intangibles: Average to Slightly Low
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Marble Skies, Tic Tac Toe, In Your Beat, Real Gone.
18. American Utopia: David Byrne: Feeling in many ways like a lesser but far more positive spin on the musical ideas explored in the Talking Head's final album Blind, American Utopia offers up enough buoyant musical moments and classic David Byrne quirks to make the album well worth checking out if you're a fan, but some very clunky lyrics and the lack of any genuinely exceptional material marks the album as a warm but relatively minor work in Byrne discography overall. That said, I do like its closing two tracks (the joyous Everybody's Coming To My House and the contemplative stroll through the regions of the brain Here) quite a bit, and both were fantastic when I saw Byrne perform them live.
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Gasoline And Dirty Sheets, It's Not Dark Up Here, Everybody's Coming To My House, Here.
DIDN'T LISTEN TO ENOUGH TO RANK BUT WELL WORTH CHECKING OUT
Last Updated 01/12/2019