Top Albums 2018

2018 was a like a time warp… I’m sure I missed a lot of great music, not to mention my failure to follow up on all the cool stuff I hear as a now-regular listener of KEXP. Overall, though, I really felt it was a good year for rock. Anyhow, here are my recommendations (here’s last year’s list).

Cherry Glazerr – Apocalipstick

Fairly frequently, I’ll see a post on reddit or somewhere asking whether rock is dead. Setting aside the ridiculousness of the assertion that any kind of popular music of the last 100 years has truly died – in this age of on-demand streaming and combined influences from everywhere – I’ll take the point that rock music has passed out of the mainstream consciousness. Yet my position is that the best rock has always thrived as an underground pursuit. People pick up the instruments, they want to communicate something raw, to have power over their feelings and share catharsis. Cherry Glazerr, with Clementine Creevy at the helm – who was just 19 at the time this record was released – has complete command of the spirit of rock, from the searing riffs to the moments of quiet reflection. Rock is dead? Don’t make me laugh.

Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse

I just like how weird this album is. It combines discordance with pop playfulness, heavy riffs with airy melodies, and my favorite – a slightly eccentric singing voice with some bite. Speedy Ortiz embraces rock and uses it to undergird their unique song structures.

Beach House – 7

Droney dreamy Beach House isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re into it, 7 finds Beach House in fine form, and I think it’s because they don’t let that style drag the songs into indistinctness or a feeling of malaise (not true of all their albums). The songs on 7, to my ear, have stronger themes and melodies than other efforts since 2012’s Bloom.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food

I’d heard Unknown Mortal Orchestra here and there, but didn’t really become interested until I saw them perform live. The positive energy on display was something else. On record they can seem a lot more subdued or the production is purposely muddy or lo-fi. Sex & Food strikes the right balance for me – it doesn’t abandon the way they prefer to produce their records, but cleans it up a little bit, which benefits the danceability of songs like Hunnybee and harnesses the energy I saw on stage.

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

I was underwhelmed by 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. I really wanted to like it, but the more you listen to it, the more the songs feel like a drag to get through. The songs just don’t rock like they should. Tell Me How You Really Feel, on the other hand, has nary a boring song on it. I don’t care for Kurt Vile, but you can feel and hear the results of their collaboration on Courtney’s album. The way she delivers her story-songs is more relaxed and rhythmic.