Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Best Albums of 2018

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I don't really have much to say this year; here's the music I dug in 2018, blah blah. Instead I want to take some time out to level some accusations at every actual publication's list that I happened to see: you can't hide your apathy anymore. Nothing is being promoted on the basis of the fact that it's interesting or probing or fun. The people charging that rock/pop criticism has been overcome by "IDpol" or whatever are obviously full of shit and have ulterior motives, and the reactionary attitude they exhibit is a big source of the problem. But if it was really about demographics then it wouldn't come down to the fact that there are the "right" artists to praise, and the "wrong" ones -- or if not the wrong ones, then at least the ones without the "right" degree of publicity muscle behind them. I have some pretty dark suspicions about the actual reasons behind all this, and you can probably read them into that last sentence. Almost forty years ago David Byrne sang "someone controls electric guitar." Someone still controls it, and now that control is minutely targeted with eerie precision, steeping us in an echo chamber of doom for eternity. Yet I don't get the impression that the writers and editors who still have an important role to fill, who still have power even if it's diminished, are doing anything to stem this tide. The terror of clinging to survival has persuaded the rags to play along, and I think it's bullshit. There is nothing wrong with universal praise for a record; indeed, several in my top ten were heavily plugged throughout the year by a lot of mainstream and semi-mainstream outlets. What scares me is the lack of idiosyncrasy, and the degree to which artists that completely ignore the idea of an outside narrative being imposed on them are shunned and cast off.

Then again, perhaps it was ever thus, and I only notice now that I'm keeping an eye on things.

I could waste time asking why this is the case or naming specific points of reference, why this and not this etc., but my intention is not to cast doubt on people who really truly love and want to champion music I find befuddling. What I can tell you, though, is that I had the time of my life putting A Productive Cough on and doing something akin to "rocking out" to its liberating, dumb performances; and whether I can justify that on objective critical grounds or not, whether I can connect it to some nebulous zeitgeist or not, it betrays the lack of a theme to all this. This is not a list of the most generous PR firms or a list measured to balanced perfection, it's a list of what a real actual human being listened to and loved the most throughout this year.

Albums reviewed in 2018: 242, up from 208 in 2017. Additional albums sampled and rejected: 207. Total: 449, up from 413 in 2017.

On another note: in the late '80s, Chuck D called hip hop the CNN of black America. Not to co-opt such a powerful concept, but I remembered that quote when I realized that as of the second half of the year, music is now my only connection with the present, at least apart from my career that often leaves my head in its own kind of busy bubble -- in the library field, helping and being engaged in the world is a process, not an "act." Privately, I'm falling away from the broader life around me. My free time is spent reading old news, watching old films, steeping myself in events and art of the increasingly distant past, absorbing myself in it and applying my own slower rhythms to it. Whether this will change I don't know; I've only just gotten past asking if it's responsible and healthy (with the help of a physician and a therapist). In the new music I hear, though, the story goes on like quick shots of happiness and misery seen through the window of a subway car as it speeds up or slows down. My whole life I've felt like an outside observer and regardless of the heaviness of my involvement, this sensation never seems to change. But the world happens on subway trains too. My #2 record rides with me, rolls it eyes along with me. My #1 record invades the quiet car -- my face is the front of shop -- and screams in my face, gleefully until I pay attention, like the dancers at Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. And only after it shuts up do I realize how much I needed it. Yet the wheels stop turning and I don't get out. Did I mention I don't even live in a city?

A NOTE ABOUT HOOKWORMS
Some months after Hookworms' Microshift received effusive praise from these quarters and many others, their leader MJ was revealed to be a creep; the group's statement on the matter is here. Believe it or not, this was the first time I've really dealt with something like this with a currently operational "list candidate" on any big scale, and given that we are known to praise the works of Jerry Lee Lewis and Michael Jackson here it would have seemed cheap and hypocritical to just ignore the record at year's end. But in my view, celebrating an artist whose historical place sits firmly in a very different (and worse) time is quite different from promoting one who stands in any small way to gain from your attention. (When Surfer Blood's major label bid Pythons was released, I mentioned here being kind of relieved that it sucked.) There's also the fact that, in revisiting the album to make this list, while I still liked it a greal deal, I can't deny that its placement probably reflected some new discomfort. To be honest, I would have considered omitting it altogether if the rest of the band had not made the wise and commendable decision to disband and suspend all operations immediately, which makes me feel much less guilty about including the record here, though whether time will be kind to the album or to any attention once afforded it, I obviously can't say.

***

50. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (Atlantic)
49. Skee Mask: Compro (Ilian Tape)
48. Jlin: Autobiography (Planet Mu)
47. Jorja Smith: Lost & Found (Famm)
46. MGMT: Little Dark Age (Columbia)
45. Screaming Females: All at Once (Don Giovanni)
44. Mouse on Mars: Dimensional People (Thrill Jockey)
43. Lonnie Holley: MITH (Jagjaguwar)
42. Buddy: Harlan & Alondra (RCA)
41. Maylee Todd: Acts of Love (Do Right!)
40. Cindy Wilson: Change (Kill Rock Stars)
39. Cities Aviv: Raised for a Better View (s/r)
38. RP Boo: I'll Tell You What! (Planet Mu)
37. Swearin': Fall into the Sun (Merge)
36. Odetta Hartman: Old Rockhounds Never Die (Memphis Industries)
35. Georgia Ann Muldrow: Overload (Brainfeeder)
34. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse!)
33. Camp Cope: How to Socialise & Make Friends (Run for Cover)
32. Hookworms: Microshift (Domino)
31. Dean McPhee: Four Stones (Hood Faire)
30. Nas: Nasir (Def Jam)
29. Beyoncé & Jay-Z: Everything Is Love (Roc Nation)
28. Daniel Avery: Song for Alpha (Mute)
27. Colter Wall: Songs of the Plains (Thirty Tigers)
26. The Wave Pictures: Brushes with Happiness (Moshi Moshi)
25. Rhye: Blood (Loma Vista)
24. Lotic: Power (Tri Angle)
23. Pinkshinyultrablast: Miserable Miracles (Club AC30)
22. Kids See Ghosts (Def Jam)
21. Vince Staples: FM! (Def Jam)
20. The Last Poets: Understand What Black Is (Studio Rockers)
19. Maria Muldaur: Don't You Feel My Leg (Last)
18. Helena Hauff: Qualm (Ninja Tune)
17. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune)
16. U.S. Girls: In a Poem Unlimited (4AD)
15. Titus Andronicus: A Productive Cough (Merge)
14. Pusha T: DAYTONA (Def Jam)
13. Angelique Kidjo: Remain in Light (Kravenworks)
12. Noname: Room 25 (s/r)
11. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs (Sub Pop)

10. Wye Oak: The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs

(Merge) | A- | review

9. Tierra Whack: Whack World
(s/r) | A- | review

8. Jean Grae x Quelle Chris: Everything's Fine
(Mello Music) | A- | review

7. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
(Mom + Pop) | A | review

6. Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On
(Matador) | A | review

5. Tirzah: Devotion
(Domino) | A | review

4. The Wave Pictures: Look Inside Your Heart
(Moshi Moshi) | A | review

3. Robyn: Honey
(Interscope) | A | review

2. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer
(Bad Boy) | A | review

1. SOPHIE: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides
(Future Classic) | A+ (upgrade) | review

***

THE NEXT FIFTY
51. Matthew Dear: Bunny (Ghostly)
52. Adult.: This Behavior (Dais)
53. Nao: Saturn (RCA)
54. Ryley Walker: Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans)
55. Kanye West: ye (Def Jam)
56. Tracyanne & Danny (Merge)
57. DJ Koze: Knock Knock (Pampa)
58. Orquesta Akokan (Daptone)
59. Teyana Taylor: KTSE (Def Jam)
60. Yoko Ono: Warzone (Chimera)
61. Thom Yorke: Suspiria OST (XL)
62. The Low Anthem: The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea (Joyful Noise)
63. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Black Times (Strut)
64. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (Verve)
65. Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo (Shanachie)
66. G-Eazy: The Beautiful & Damned (RCA)
67. Anthony Joseph: People of the Sun (Heavenly Sweetness)
68. A.A.L. (Against All Logic): 2012-2017 (Other People)
69. Andrew Bird: Echoloations: River (Wegawam)
70. Shannon and the Clams: Onion (Easy Eye Sound)
71. Miss Red: K.O. (Pressure)
72. Czarface/MF Doom: Czarface Meets Metal Face (Silver Age)
73. Kali Uchis: Isolation (Virgin)
74. Idles: Joy as an Act of Resistance (Partisan)
75. Leon Vynehall: Nothing Is Still (Ninja Tune)
76. Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear (Anti-)
77. Phonte: No News Is Good News (Foreign Exchange)
78. Sidney Gish: No Dogs Allowed (s/r)
79. Neko Case: Hell-On (Epitaph)
80. The Nels Cline 4: Currents, Constellations (Blue Note)
81. Neneh Cherry: Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound)
82. Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus (Bella Union)
83. Saba: CARE FOR ME (Saba Pivot)
84. Tracey Thorn: Record (Merge)
85. Khruangbin: Con Todo El Mundo (Night Time Stories)
86. CupcakKe: Ephorize (s/r)
87. LUMP (Dead Oceans)
88. Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (Sub Pop)
89. Sunflower Bean: Twentytwo in Blue (Lucky Number)
90. Shannon Shaw: Shannon in Nashville (Easy Eye)
91. Anna von Hausswolff: Dead Magic (City Slang)
92. Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade)
93. N.E.R.D.: No One Ever Really Dies (Columbia)
94. Richard Thompson: 13 Rivers (New West)
95. Earl Sweatshirt: Some Rap Songs (Columbia)
96. Tangents: New Bodies (Temporary Residence)
97. Simian Mobile Disco: Murmurations (Wichita Recordings)
98. Hailu Mergia: Lala Belu (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
99. Natalie Prass: The Future and the Past (Caroline)
100. St. Vincent: MassEducation (Loma Vista)

ALSO RECOMMENDED IN 2018
Jeff Tweedy: Warm (dBpm)
Advance Base: Animal Companionship (Run for Cover)
Go-Kart Mozart: Mozart's Mini-Mart (West Midlands)
James Holden & the Animal Spirits: The Animal Spirits (Border Community)
Pram: Across the Meridian (Domino)
Virginia Wing: Ecstatic Arrow (Fire)
Beach House: 7 (Sub Pop)
Black Milk: Fever (Mass Appeal)
Cut Worms: Hollow Ground (Jagjaguwar)
Blawan: Wet Will Always Dry (Ternesc)
Lykke Li: so sad so sexy (RCA)
Stuck in the Wheel: Follow Them True (From Here)
Sarah Blasko: Depth of Field (Universal)
Dedekind Cut: Tahoe (Kranky)
Oneohtrix Point Never: Age Of (Warp)
The Field: Infinite Moment (Kompakt)
The Essex Green: Hardly Electronic (Merge)
Laurel Halo: Raw Silk Uncut Wood (Latency)
Paul McCartney: Egypt Station (Capitol)
Jon Hopkins: Singularity (Domino)
Proc Fiskal: Insula (Hyperdub)
Israel Nash: Lifted (Desert Folklore)
Kandace Springs: Indigo (Blue Note)
Arp: ZEBRA (Mexican Summer)
QTY (Dirty Hit)
SOB X RBE: Gangin (Empire)
Fucked Up: Dose Your Dreams (Merge)
Robert Finley: Goin' Platinum! (Easy Eye)
Stef Chura: Messes (Urinal Cake)
First Aid Kit: Ruins (Columbia)
Novelist: Novelist Guy (Mmmyeh)
White Denim: Performance (City Slang)
Cat Power: Wanderer (Domino)
Tinashe: Joyride (RCA)
Marlon Williams: Make Way for Love (Dead Oceans)
Empress Of: Us (XL)
Ital Tek: Bodied (Planet Mu)
Nils Frahm: All Melody (Erased Tapes)
Rival Consoles: Persona (Erased Tapes)
Haiku Salut: There Is No Elsewhere (Prah)
The Goon Sax: We're Not Talking (Wichita)
Modern Studies: Welcome Strangers (Fire)
Low: Double Negative (Sub Pop)
Parquet Courts: Wide Awake! (Rough Trade)
Sauna Youth: Deaths (Upset the Rhythm)
George Fitzgerald: All That Must Be (Double Six)
Xylouris White: Mother (Bella Union)
Exploded View: Obey (Sacred Bones)
Anna Calvi: Hunter (Domino)
Joan Baez: Whistle Down the Wind (Proper)
Mr. Twin Sister: Salt (s/r)
Red River Dialect: Broken Stay Open Sky (Paradise of Bachelors)
Shame: Songs of Praise (Dead Oceans)
Tim Hecker: Konoyo (Kranky)
Mary Lattimore: Hundreds of Days (Ghostly)
Daniel Bachman: The Morning Star (Three Lobed Recordings)
MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk (World Galaxy)
Pariah: Here from Where We Are (Houndstooth)
L'Orange: The Ordinary Man (Mello Music)
Joey Purp: QUARTERTHING (s/r)
Lucy Dacus: Historian (Matador)
Sarah Davachi: Gave in Rest (Ba Da Bing!)
Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois (Planet Mu)
Calexico: The Thread That Keeps Us (Epitaph)
Chilly Gonzales: Solo Piano III (Gentle Threat)
Gwenno: Le Kov (Heavenly)
Jim James: Tribute to 2 (ATO)
Charli XCX: Pop 2 (Atlantic)
Graham Parker: Cloud Symbols (100%)
Shopping: The Official Body (Fat Cat)
Tunng: Songs You Make at Night (Full Time Hobby)
Chris Carter: Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 (Mute)
R+R=NOW: Collagically Speaking (Blue Note)
Ariana Grande: Sweetener (Republic)
Oliver Coates: Shelly's on Zenn-La (RVNG Intl.)
Essaie Pas: New Path (DFA)
Gas: Rausch (Kompakt)
Denzel Curry: TA13OO (Loma Vista)
Field Music: Open Here (Memphis Industries)
Interpol: Marauder (Matador)
Call Super: Arpo (Houndstooth)
Vessel: Queen of Golden Dogs (Tri Angle)

***

EP GOOD ENOUGH TO BE IN THE TOP ALBUMS LIST
Black Thought: Streams of Thought Vol. 1 (Human Re Sources)

OTHER EPs RECOMMENDED IN 2018
Jenny Hval: The Long Sleep (Sacred Bones)
Iglooghost: Steel Mogu (s/r)
Iglooghost: Clear Tamei (s/r)
Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio (Merge)
Aphex Twin: Collapse (Warp)
Wussy: Getting Better (Shake It)
The Mountain Goats: Aquarium Drunkard's Lagniappe Session (Merge)
Daniel Avery: Diminuendo (Phantasy Sound)

******

Our Beatles project continues throughout 2019. An expanded List of Lists on its usual date. The last year of the full-on new release grind opens up in February; you can expect a first-draft decade retrospective in the summer, as I will be starting work on it over the break. And to all a good night.


here you are

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