Monday, February 11, 2019

McQ's Favorite Albums Of 2018

Okay, getting started with filling out our personal year-end rankings for 2018, another interesting year, but one completely lacking in elite albums.  First year in a long while where there wasn't at least one title that felt worthy of a highest recommend, but that is definitely the case for 2018. 

That said, a number of excellent strong recommends and very high end solids, so still an entertaining and music year overall.

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.

Highest Recommends


1a. Wide Awake - Parquet Courts:

What It Is: If one includes their 2017 collaboration with Daniele Luppi Milano, then Wide Awake is the prolific New York-by-way-of-Texas-based Americana punk outfit's sixth proper release since their brilliant 2013 debut Light Up Gold. A whip-smart album that tackles pretty much all of America's contemporary political issues with tons of humor from a wise beyond-their-years, big picture geopolitical and multi-generational perspective, there has never been an album that presents the Baby-Boomer / Millennial schism as starkly and defiantly as this (its bleak central thesis - the world's major problems are almost entirely the boomer's fault, but nothing is going to get straightened out until their politically overwhelming numbers start dying off, and that can't happen soon enough).  Danger Mouse handles production duties for the first time for the band on this latest Rough Trade release which clocks in at 38:37.

What I Like Best: Where to start? In a soft year for exceptional albums, Parquet Courts' Wide Awake is one of 2018's clear standouts, and while it may not be as persuasively forceful a punk mantra as Idles' Joy As An Act Of Resistance, it is to my ears the smartest album of the year. It is also, with its vibrant mix of Minutemen, Beastie Boys, Franz Ferdinand, Pavement, and Black Keys influences, more fun than any 2018 album other than Confident Music For Confident People listed just below.  Danger Mouse continues his scorching-hot production streak of the last few years, opening up and expanding the Court's sound like never before, resulting in, if not their best album (my vote still goes to Light Up, Gold), their funkiest and without question their most sonically and stylistically adventurous.  Buoyed by fantastic rapid-fire lyricism, a marvelous, Paul's Boutique-styled lack of predictability, and some of the best shout-along rock choruses since Car Seat Headrest's Teens Of Denial, this album should appeal to just about any fan of humor-laden art-rock / cowboy-punk, and captures the helter-skelter psychological chaos of the Trump Era better than any album I've heard to date. 
Intangibles: High

Cherry Picker's Best BetsTotal FootballViolenceBefore The Water Gets Too HighAlmost Had To Start A Fight/In And Out Of PatienceFreebird IINormalizationWide AwakeTenderness.



1b. Confident Music For Confident People - Confidence Man:


3. Double Negative - Low:

Strong Recommends


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.
Intangibles: High
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.

Solid Recommends


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.

 10. Chris - Christine & The Queens:

11. Songs Of Praise - Shame:


12. Lush - Snail Mail:


13. Honey - Robyn:


14. 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
Intangibles: Average
Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Negative Space, Static Resistance, Ullswater, The Soft Season.


15. Heaven And Earth - Kamasi Washington:


16. Room 25 - Noname:


17. Twin Fantasy - Car Seat Headrest:


18. Hope Downs - Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever:


19. Bark Your Head Off, Dog! - Hop Along:


19. Daytona - Pusha T:


20. Ruins - First Aid Kit:


21. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love - Deafheaven:


22. Transangelic Exodus - Ezra Furman:

Mild Recommends


23. 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.


24. 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.
Intangibles: Average
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

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Last Updated 01/12/2019