Rock, Pop, and Folk Feature: Favorite Albums of 2018 — The Delightful Dozen
By Blake Maddux
Here are 12 albums that come out in 2018 that I liked.
I am on the wrong side of 40 and have 15-month-old twins, so I don’t listen to as much new music in as much depth as I might like to. However, I do try to keep up, and I hear some pretty good stuff in the process. (Due to budgetary limitations, my main sources are an emusic subscription and free downloads from publicists.)
Here are 12 albums that come out in 2018 that I liked. They are ordered chronologically, as they are neither my “favorites” nor the ones that I consider to be “the best” of the year. They are just ones that I liked a lot would encourage everyone to listen to. Since everyone who knows me knows I love Paul Weller and Richard Thompson, I decided to leave their albums — True Meanings and 13 Rivers, respectively — off of the list. Plus, doing so allowed me to keep the list fresh by limited the inclusions to artists whose first albums are no more than 40 years old. #sarcasm
1. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys (February 23, Southern Domestic Recordings) and Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (April 6, Southern Domestic)
I am cheating a bit here by including two albums in one slot. But hey, Eric produced, engineered, and played on Amy’s record and Amy is credited with guitar, piano, and vocals on Eric’s. Their marriage is both legal and musical, and is equally successful in both regards.
2. Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: Soul Flowers of Titan (March 2, Bloodshot)
Soul Flowers of Titan continues a winning streak that commenced in 2011 after a 15-year absence from recording by Barrence Whitfield. Although there are no lengthy, spaced-out jazz instrumentals on the album, it is clear from the title and promo shots alone that Whitfield wasn’t lying when he told me at the Salem record store that he works in that Soul Flowers was conceived of under the influence of Sun Ra.
3. Nap Eyes: I’m Bad Now (March 9, Jagjaguwar)
With the February 2018 break-up of Ultimate Painting, Nap Eyes became the prime purveyors of the latter-day Velvet Underground and early Lou Reed solo material sound. With more songs (11) and a longer running time (46:45) than the band’s previous two albums, I’m Bad Now benefits from being streamlined on the micro level and expanded on the macro one.
4. Guided By Voices: Space Gun (March 23, Guided By Voices, Inc.)
Robert Pollard is so musically fecund that it can be difficult for casual GBV fans (they do exist) to keep up, let alone decide which albums they think are better than others. 2018 was a bit easier, though, as they released “only” this album. Pollard biographer Matthew Cutter (click for my Arts Fuse interview), who is as literate of a fan as they come, described Space Gun as “a big favorite” of his among the band’s more recent releases, and one that “it doesn’t seem like [the current lineup] could get better than.” Of course, that was before he heard one of the three GBV albums that are slated for release this year.
5. Sloan: 12 (April 6, Yep Roc)
The fact that it is unsurprising that each new album by the enduring Canadian quartet Sloan is as good as it is does not make that consistently any less impressive. And as I wrote in my Arts Fuse review of 2018’s 12, “All four songwriters’ strengths run at full-tilt throughout the album, whether it is [Chris] Murphy’s rocking pop, [Patrick] Pentland’s poppy rock, [Jay] Ferguson’s glittering 70s-style AM gold, or [Andrew] Scott’s hazy, midtempo borderline psychedelia.” At least three years have separated each of the group’s releases over the past decade, but none of them have ever not been worth the wait.
6. Triptides: Visitors (April 6, Requiem pour un Twister)
Cofounded by Angeleos who were studying at Indiana University, Triptides traffics in brisk, trippy neo-psychedelia that is neither stale nor self-indulgent. Even those whom one would expect to know better might be surprised by Visitors’ decade of release by the band’s generous use of flute and Farfisa.
7. Wussy: What Heaven Is Like (May 18, Damnably)
Although it may have given me an immediate reason to be interested in them, one certainly don’t have to be a fellow native Ohioan to appreciate Cincinnati’s Wussy. In fact, fans as diverse as Dean of American Rock Critics (East Coast) Robert Christgau and blogger/Imperial College London astrophysist Andrew Jaffe have made the case for Wussy as the best band in America. What Heaven Is Like surely did nothing to dilute their convictions, and most likely made them even stronger. After all, what’s not to love about an album whose last three songs are called “Oblivion,” “Nope,” and “Black Hole”? Here’s hoping that the back pain suffered last year by co-leader Chuck Cleaver that led to the cancellation of the band’s gig at Sonia has been successfully treated and that Wussy will be back at work this year.
8. Angélique Kidjo: Remain In Light (June 8, Kravenworks)
Talking Heads was probably the most ambitious and artistically sophisticated American band that released its first record in 1977. David Byrne and company were heavily influenced by African music, as evidenced by 1979’s Fear of Music and 1980s Remain In Light. Therefore, Angélique Kidjo’s being a native of the West African nation Benin makes her version of the latter album a bit more interesting, successful, and worthwhile than the efforts of others who do a whole album of another artist’s songs. And no, that is not a subtle dig at Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John or Meshell Ndegeocello’s Ventriloquism, both of which came out in 2018 but aren’t included in this list.
9. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs (June 15, Sub Pop)
Rolling Blackouts C.F., as they are sometimes called, is a Melbourne-based quintet that draws inspiration from fellow Australians The Go-Betweens and American indie/alternative pioneers The Feelies and R.E.M. Such comparisons gives the band quite a tall order to fill in terms of what they actually deliver. However, one listen to their 2018 Sub Pop debut LP should be sufficient to convince anyone that RBCF are worthy torchbearers of the jangle pop tradition.
10. The Essex Green: Hardly Electronic (June 29, Merge)
Although it might be wrong to judge an album by its cover, this one is as delectably retro on the inside as it is on the outside. Among its highlights are Sloane Ranger, Don’t Leave it in Our Hands, Modern Rain, which sounds like it could have been on The Pretty Things’ 1967 album S.F. Sorrow, and the Belle & Sebastian-esque Patsy Desmond. It had been 12 years since their last release, but The Essex Green are obviously evergreen. (BTW, I thought that I was discovering a new band’s debut album when I first learned of Hardly Electronic. I later learned that The Essex Green had released three LPs between 1999 and 2006.)
11. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me (August 10, Carpark Records)
I am still kicking myself for somehow not realizing that this New Zealand quartet–of whom only the lead singer is named Beth–had a gig at Atwood’s Tavern on October 10. Thankfully, they will be at Brighton Music Hall with Bad Bad Hats on February 28. Future Me Hates Me is as good of a way to start off a career as any. It’s 40 minutes are replete with muscular guitars, foot-stomping rhythms, and mouthwatering pop melodies. Elizabeth Stokes’s voice fits the musical medium in which The Beths work like a glove, and the overall effect is rejuvenating.
12. Art Brut: Wham! Bang! Pow! Let’s Rock Out! (November 23, Alcopop!)
The new Art Brut album is great rock ‘n’ roll fun with just the right amount of substance to keep it from being mere fluff. Lead singer Eddie Argos inhabits the role of the lovable loser, which makes the results worthwhile even when he has to force the lyrics a bit. Plus, there are enough rock music in-jokes for those who get them to be proud of themselves. Old fans, rejoice; newcomers, start here!
10 Very Honorable Mentions
Superchunk: What a Time To Be Alive
Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John
The Vryll Society: Course of the Satellite
Richard Thompson: 13 Rivers
Paul Weller: True Meanings
Cat Power: Wanderer
Jacco Gardner: Somnium
The Bevis Frond: We’re Your Friends, Man
Blake Maddux is a freelance journalist who regularly contributes to the Arts Fuse, the Somerville Times, and the Beverly Citizen. He has also written for DigBoston, the ARTery, Lynn Happens, the Providence Journal, The Onion’s A.V. Club, and the Columbus Dispatch. A native Ohioan, he moved to Boston in 2002 and currently lives with his wife and one-year-old twins–Elliot Samuel and Xander Jackson–in Salem, Massachusetts.