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Best Of 2018: Albums Through May


Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer- The revenge, and the equalizing, of the black American woman starts with Brian Wilson harmonies and ends by denouncing institutionalized racism. In between, the album is the leap forward Monae has been promising since her first EP: a dive into electronic pop and the strife of a bi-sexual, black woman, like a single Beyonce, battling forward to be seen and heard. This is 2018 and this is a celebration of “black girl magic”

A$AP Rocky – TESTING – The thing about Rocky, and we’ve known it for awhile, he is an artist using sound as a canvas… not unlike Frank Ocean on “Purity,” the brilliant conclusion to this musical continuation into sample heaven and strange, druggy sounds, where the rap of Trap doesn’t exist

John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness – The great folk singer faces mortality and dusts off a late career masterpiece about the passing of time and telling his father that his father was wrong, for its ease and simplicity consider this one of the greats.

Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy – The kick is that she doesn’t have flow and sounds as though she is reading, which leads to suspicions she doesn’t write her own rhymes. Perhaps, but then tell me why song for song this is the best hip hop album of the year? You know the singles and there is even better here, “Best Life” with Chance The Rapper and the Peter Rodriguez inspired, Bad Bunny and J Balvin featured “I Like It” are standouts in an album of standouts. If you take off the singles, the album is a brisk 35 minutes and is better for its leaness. And the dreaded “Finesse” is MIA. The album is less a singular vision and more pictures in an exhibition of her life, and that should be enough

Parquet Courts – Awake! – I never much cared for producer Danger Mouse or Velvety wannabes Parquet courts but put them together and you get a very strong album, they seem to have emerged from the drone that battled them and written some extremely strong songs here… best title? “Freebird II,” best arrangement “Total Football”

The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy, – Abel’s old school break up EP goes back to his Trilogy start but with cannier skills. At 21 minutes in length you can put it on repeat and every song will kick in in time

Playboy Carti – Die Lit – This is state of the art rap, a mumbly druggy fashion slurred out snapshot, with big time featured artists (that means you, Lil Uzi vert) , and Nicki Minaj providing the best moment on “Poke It Out” and if repetition is the god of hooks, Playboy Carti is the king of repetition on these sticky pop slams

Ephorize – cupcakKe – The easy answer is cupcakke is a modern day Millie Jackson except a song like “Wisdom Teeth” is straight up flow rappin’ and rhymin’… on the other hand “Tap the head of the dick, duck duck duck goose, head of the dick, duck duck duck goose, get that dick up and runnin’ when he fuck this cooch covered in all my cum the dick be lookin’ like a goose”. Over fifteen tracks only four are explicit, which means the Chicago rapper is developing, but man, they are filthy dirty. “Crayons” is as great a song as the LGBTQ deserves

Soccer Mommy – Clean – Sophie Allison can write a song and these ten songs in a fast clipped 34 minutes are understated but angry, they seem like whispered threats at a romance like, as Allison puts it, a dog on a leash: it has been a week full of mediocre singer songwriter tropes, but this is one that works through a single minded blueness. “Still clean” is the best song of the week, “Your Dog” and “Last Girl” are pretty great as well

The Old Guys – Amy Rigby – An old school rock sound, less so country but country is still there,  as good at slow songs as up-tempo, with one immensely skillful tune after another, this is Amy’s best since Diary Of A Mod Housewife,… but then so are the rest. This woman can simply write great songs, it’s a gift and she has it. Here Amy deals with aging head on, and also a question that must plague her: “Is persistence just the opposite of luck?”

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar – This is a week where I wish I had two best albums of the week. Young Fathers sophomore effort is a strange neo-r&b soul, electronic pan-everything beauty of an album quasi rap but rap and more, “See How” is so great it’s ridiculous

Kendrick Lamar – Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By – Kendrick curates and performs on four tracks and it all has that Kendrick touch, hard yet serious. Jay Rock and Future are on one of the best songs of the year so far, the SZA duet made a complete believer of me, and Schoolboy Q needs no introduction

Post Malone – beerbongs & Bentleys – An excellent album, I mean except cmon Malone whining, a beautiful downbeat whiner already double platinum. “Psycho” is great, “Paranoid” is better, and if nothing out stands out, it all works as a wall of soft sell bangers and hooks to burn

Tom Rush – Voices – The great 77 year old folkie joins Willie Nelson and John Prine in the late career masterpiece rolls on this splendid country folk album, everything is terrific and the bookends, “Elder Green” and “Voices” are the best of the best, and the “Corina Corina” is worthy

Leon Bridges – Good Thing – I am not keen on neo-soul recordings, even the late great Sharon Jones worked best on stage, but the problem has been the songs not the singer, and the songs here are so great it smashes Bridges out into the best of the genre. Plus, “Beyond” is one of the best songs of the year

2 Chainz – The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It EP – Four songs, all great and I’m not even  a big 2 Chainz fan, plus “Proud” -with YG and Offset, is not only one of Offset’s best moments of the year (and remember, he is a third of the new Migos brick), but also: how often do you hear a song about trying to make momma proud?

Joan As Police Woman – Damned Devotion – Did you know that the Joan in question, Joan Wasser, used to date Jeff Buckley? I didn’t mostly because she has never been quite good enough to maintain my interest, maybe I didn’t give her the time. The lead single here, “Tell Me” changed that, and this is a terrific, soulful, white soul rebels of an album. It kept my attention and while I think there is something missing from the mix, I am not sure if it makes any difference because just about everything is quite good enough. A luminous, lovely, thriller of an album where Joan gets her disco on but only just

Sasha Sloan – sad girl – You’ve heard Sasha on Kygo’s “This Town” and Odesza’s “Falls,” co-writing for everyone from Charli XCX (“Track 10”) to Camila Cabello (“Never Be The Same”), the latter is a masterpiece and while here the 22 year old is performing singer songwriter tropes, she has the same voice in her inner ear, try lead off cut “Normal

Caroline Rose – LONER – At its best when at its lightest, “Bikini” is my jam, at its worse it is pure pop electronic with attitude and smarts

Boys – Rest In Peace – Indie and girls, it’s happening man. Unfortunately, my dislike for Angel and Julien left me late to the party, but Big Thief and Soccer Mom broke through and this is a fuzzed out blissed out album that reminds me of some ROIR band with the funkiness surgically removed… via Stockholm so you gotta think

Lil Xan – TOTAL XANARCHY – Mumble rap and good stuff as well, this is the way drug music should sound, so fucked up it can barely stand, it woozes into other planet

Beach House – 7 – More of the same dreamscape shoegaze but every here and there they capture lightning in a bottle, “Drunk In LA” and “Dive” are gorgeous, and “Lose Your Smile” is like Brian Wilson as performed by a snail

Ghostface Killah – The Brown Tape – According XXL: “,Ghost dropped the concept album, 2 Reasons to Die, with Adrian Younge in 2013. Frequent collaborator Brown then put together an alternate version of the LP titled The Brown Tape, which featured an almost identical tracklist and all new beats. The new version was released on streaming sites but would later be removed. Last month, Mello Music Group revealed they would be re-releasing the project January 25th. ” According to Ken Shane: “As far from Kendrick as you can get but nearly as cool”

A Place To Bury Strangers – Pinned – If you must listen to shoegaze and MBV are still playing hard to get, this adds goth to the mix with a constantly gorgeous barely contained horror in the face of the closing of Death By Audio

Camila Cabello – Camila – The former Fifth Harmony has played her hand as well as Zayn Malik, and while some of this is a bore, its best moments, the potential song of the winter “Never be The Same” for one and the Cuban- American theme song “Havana” among them, is sky high

Ski Mask The Slum God – BEWARE THE BOOK OF ELI EP – The Broward county movement is growing up, so while “BUKKAKE” is exactly what you think Ski Mask would be doing if you ever saw him live (though the sample is better than that), “SUICIDE SEASON” is danker and darker than you might believe possible. Once Ski figures out what he is actually doing as a uniformed whole, he will be a biggie

U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited – Of all those gender fluid, lilith-y performers, all the Courtneys and Angel Olsem , U.S> Girls don’t much fit because their sound is so gorgeous, dynamic, and strong. This is their second killer album in a row amd if you hang out for ten songs you’ll get personal best “Poem”

Joan Baez – Whistle Down The Wind – If this is to be Joan’s final release, it is a fine one. Some of the top songwriters of today, including  Tom Waits, beautifully interpreted and sent off  by the heardtrending nothing changes “I Wish The Wars Were All Over” traditional

Sango – In The Comfort Of – Neo R&B and the kitchen sink on this first rate collection of  electronic soul music. “Life Without God Is Nothing” may well be the song of the week, the rap is nicely integrated, the hooks hook, the mood maintains, this isn’t Gospel but it is faith oriented music and the producer works magic on one quiet beat after another. In conversation he drops Frank Ocean’s name and you can hear why, you can also hear why it took him over three years to complete

Various Artists – Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s – An ace compilation according to Steve Crawford, I’m no SC but I like it fine

Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive – Not as good as the standard bearer, Majestic Shedding, but better than the last couple. Apparently a reaction to the Trump Presidency (they don’t like it) and it rings like a punk pop bell (and Mac McCaughan still sounds like a whiny teenager)

Chief Keef – The Glofiles (Pt 1 and 2) – I don’t see why there is any reason for Pt 1 to be driller and darker than vol 2 but it is… Chief Keef is a huge influence on modern rap and on Vol 1 you can absolutely hear why

Anne- Marie – Speak Your Mind – The Rudimental singer on her own with a world class modern pop song album, “Cry” and “Perfect” need no excuse from me for existing, but everything here is great dance pop and some of it is more

Wiley – Godfather II – Speaking of rapping terrific bars, “Bar” is a lot of fun, “Crash” is where EDM pop meets rap, “Been A While” has a great flow, and Wiley stakes his claim to Stormzy’s crown of grime

Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing – I have never been much of a Willie Nelson fan, the one time I saw him live he put me to sleep, and when he gets his hands on a ballad he won’t let go however much you might pay hm. Here is an exception, at 85 years of age he sounds better than he did at 45 and the powerful and umph of his swing is entirely undeniable

Loreena McKennitt – Lost Souls – pure pre-Dylan folk, sounds kinda olde English though Loreena is Canadian, This is the real deal so tuck in

Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley: The Searcher (The Original Soundtrack) – From the HBO movie that I have yet to watch, and there is nothing much here to bother the big time fan, except a 1960 over of the Gospel classic”Milky White Way” that is simply adorable

Camp Cope – How  to Socialise & Make Friends – From Australia, where indie escapes from its Western jail and flourishes, this sophomore effort isn’t as good as people claim, mostly because Georgia Maq’s vocals grate after awhile, but it includes, “The Opener” and “Anna” -t… and maybe you’d whinge if you were a teen in Australia

Mount Eerie – Now Only – Last year’s A Crow Looked At Me made art where there is no art from the devastated loss as his 35 year old wife died from cancer, Now Only continues his life as he raises his daughter and raises his head. More of the same, though “Now Only” is actually catchy and pretty (the chorus goes: “people get cancer and die”)

Bali Baby – Baylor Swift EP- As clever as the album title and twice as funny, this is a nursery rhyme rap for easy going fun styled pop dreamers. At 26 minutes in length, all of it is ace and the back to back “Candy” and “WWW” are even better than that

The Lovely Eggs – This Is Eggland – Wiggy giggy psychedelic fun and games by knockout duo of wide eyed jokesters who mean it, always great all the way to “Would You fuck

03 Greedo – The Wolf Of Grape Street – Fresh out of jail, the prolific rapper has street cred to burn and is an LA legend with the tat on his forehead to prove it. Too much autotune for my tastes but this is as deeply musical as any rapper in the business this side of Ty even as he imagines the bars on the jail guitar doors spitting rhymes

Bahamas – Earthtones – Superb one man band, Canada’s Afie Jurvanen dubs himself folk but is more digital master planner pop singer songwriter on this flawless album of first rate songs, try “Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby Song)” to start and then move on to “Way With Words,” though it is one of those albums where everything is great. Jurvanen is joined by first rate (D’Angelo’s) rhythm section drummer James Gadson and bassist Pino Palladino The funk is not what I would call funky, more like a groove on a pop moment but the songs are so strong strong everything adds to a complete picture of the man

Jeremih – The Chocolate Box EP – I have never been a big fan of Jeremih… until now. Over an entire album who bores me to tears and a chorus on a rap song? He doesn’t make his presence felt strongly enough. But this is excellent stuff, three of the four songs are among his best

Lake Street Dive – Free Yourself Up – This is an anomaly in that the slower songs are great and the rockers aren’t, and even so this is a fine album, Rachael Price is in great voice, “Good Kisser” is a great song, and when they rock out they rock out with authority

Smokepurpp – Bless Yo Trap – Smokepurpp is so bad live it is easy to forget that he is so great on record, this slurpy, slithery, drugged out album is the definable presence of mumble-rap or Soundcloud rap or whatever. I just love the way it sounds, forget meaning or interpretation or anything…

Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides Of The Sky – Tupac lived, died, had a second life with a mountain of unreleased material, and ran out of new material, and still Jimi is releasing albums. This collection of studio outtakes is a good, especially the two Steve Stills ones

Young Thug – Hear No Evil EP – Three song EP featuring Nicki Minaj, Lil Uzi vert, and 21 Savage and 21 Savage wins and nobody loses

Liz Phair – The Girly-Sound Tapes – I owned some of this on a boot, but the complete thing is a work of youthful greatness and A vivisection of teens having sex with consequences . Interesting that she already had “Whip Smart

Various Artists – Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined – I am not sure changing the gender on classic pop songs works as well as the LGBTQ community want it to… However, Dylan singing “He’s Funny That Way” alone is worth the admission

Fall Out Boy – MANIA – The reason FOB feel slight is because they are slight, a mélange of emo meets EDM rock hitting the lowest common denominator 20 something world of pop, and hitting more often than not. They are Paramore for Playstation addicts. Fortunately, that doesn’t make for bad music, just not greet music. MANIA is a way competent chart heatseeker covering all bases, usually it works, sometimes it doesn’t

Hayley Kiyoko – Expectations – No wonder Taylor Swift stuck up for Hayley’s right to make same se love songs. This is a good album and though it doesn’t peak as high as “Girls Like Girls” it doesn’t meander but consistently hits or near misses the pleasure zone

Rae Sremmurd – SR3MM – 27 tracks… 27??? Nearly two hours of new music. And yet, whatever weakness the album has, it certainly isn’t consistency. This album doesn’t peak (and “Up In My Cocina” is certainly not “Black Beatle” even while substituting Paul McCartney for Mick Jagger) but it doesn’t crater either, you can’t start anywhere and play till anytime and it is all good

The Voidz – Virtue – It might not be great but it is better than anything Julian has done since his eponymous solo album, a real wide ride of brain expanding psychedelic and electronic and really good when he remembers to write a song… and that is often enough

Bill Frisell – Music IS – The terrific jazz guitarist who you may know from his wonderful recording The Sweetest Punch is at the top of his game on this self-explanatory immersion in solo  acoustic guitar –

Boys Noize – Strictly Raw, Vol. 2 – The German wunderkind DJ and the absolute king of House is dealing with pure beats here and it is a primer in everything EDM has lost over the years: distinctively and crazy rhythms ping pong off each other till settling into a groove and then stopping… I read where his next release is with RL Grimes, stay tuned

AWOLNATION – Here Come the Runts – Electronic rock band have had a good run this decade and this is a s good as the best, nearly every song is memorable, and it moves from one instantly addictive melody to another

Dear Nora – Skulls Example – A first rate folkie pop album from the West Coast band reform from the 00s, with catchy hooks and good lyrics, the more straightforward it is the better, the first four songs are amazing, and “White Fur” sounds like Jackson Browne -no, really, but then it spaces out

Jonathan Davis – Black Labyrinth – The Korn lead singer has released a towering album of unique hard rock, the simpler the better and sometimes it is too Korn-y, the first single “Walk On By” was just that, but at its best it is an important and different way to play – B+

Juice WRLD – Goodbye & Good Riddance – Excellent break up album, a slice of life that is pretty damn tough, taking Chicago Drill with the emo of Mumble Rap, and without rap’s swagger. “Lucid Dream”? “All The Girls Are The Same”? “Hurt Me”? All of those are aces on this powerful heartbreaker

Peach Kelli Pop – Gentle Leader – This is still the relentlessly genius Allie Hanlon as the gentlest of leaders though Peach Kelli Pop are now a band and the album is consistent and sweet pop punk shading into girl group here and there

Pusha T – DAYTONA EP – This took awhile to kick in but the George Jackson sample on “Come Back Baby” absolutely did the job, and while I’m at it, the Pitchfork review by Paul A. Thompson did what I want reviews to do, got me past the bumps: “It’s like an album full of “Bound 2”s, without the sentimentality”

James Bay – Electric Light – James has made a move to the pop charts as a sort of refracted Bryan Ferry (or at least Brett Anderson) but it might be too old fashioned to fashion itself hot beyond cult, and judging by “Pink Lemonade,” that’s a real shame

Kelly Willis – Back Being Blue – Old school country album, with top notch songs, great guitar playing, a lot of swing and a lot of soul

Kevin Gates – Chained To The City EP – Three songs, all excellent in a perfect case of less is more. Especially the lead off “Change Lanes”,” an introverted banger. This is his return from prison and it is worth the wait -a major move from the Louisiana native

KYLE – Light Of Mine – I thought “iSpy” was Lil Yachty’s business, but after hearing this tremendous r&b cum hip hop album, I gotta assume KYLE is the man behind it. This is one sparkling soul groove after another reaching a zenith with the Alessia Cara featured “Babies”

Shawn Mendes – Shawn Mendes – Not as bad as I claimed, cute boy wants to meet up with cute girls: Strings Attached – B-

Snow Patrol – Wildness – Surprisingly strong album on their first since 2011 is a sad yet lovely look at ths waste of time called life -too long, though – B-

The Fall – Best of the Fall & Mark E Smith (Live) – I can’t find any info on this but it sounds like the 2010s – B

The Love-Birds – In the Lover’s Corner – Catchy lo fi indie guitar pop – B

Tracyanne & Danny – Tracyanne & Danny – You know Tracyanne from Camera Obscura and these lovely pop ballads have the ethereal in their DNA and yet are so solid as to not be ephemeral -it clings to you – B

Wooden Shjips – V. – The songs are too long but what do you expect from a psychedelic jam band from San Fran? Whatever you expect you’ll get plus huge melodies that they just can’t hide – B

Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live – Neil Young – Out of the studio and onto the stage in 1973- I saw him do something similar with Harvest Moon – he seems in a good mood but the junkie miserableness of the set hasn’t changed

Old Crow Medicine Show – Volunteer – If you must listen to roots rockers, these guys are the ones to check out. Their tour behind their front to back cover of Blonde On Blonde was first rate, and here we have a mix of bluegrass and Americana and it is nothing but a pleasure

Pennywise – Never Gonna Die – The Cali punk band have been going for decades and as first releases in a decade go, this is flawless power punk with a great lead singer and twisted, hooky, politically astute rockers

Matt Whipkey – Driver – Matt, a rock star if that word means anything anymore, has driven for both Lyft and Uber, and has taken the stories shared and switched idioms, for this deep green and red classic rock album, amazingly consistently, constantly entertaining and enlightening, sometimes destructive, always dazzling songs. “Marian Kowalski, Dec 1994,” “Fred, You’re Dead,” and “Coal Mine” followed by “Winter Tires,” are highlights, “Drive My Car” is just looking for trouble

Kodak Black – Heart Break Kodak (HBK) – vicious little Kodak on romance, no, really, make up, break up, beat up, move on… this is a strange pleasure vibe on really troubled romance as he sings as much as raps and doesn’t kill any one, and as late as the 16th song, the wittily called “When Vultures Cry” he is still invested in it

Bettye LaVette – Things Have Changed – – The great blues cover artist is at her best with Dylan, where you loves him enough to give his songs true interpretations. From the title track to “Going, Going, Gone,” Bettye ranges through his entire landscape of Dylan’s catalog with exceptional results

The Fratellis – In Your Own Sweet Time – Has it been over a decade since Costello Music? Well, this is a rock solid pop rock album and their most accomplished to date. The Fratellis might not have much ambition but they have good will and high spirits to burn here

Sunflower Bean –  Twentytwo in Blue – That rarest of sophomore efforts, the one that improves on the first with toghter, better written songs.

Buzzy Lee – Facepaint EP – This sounds like lo fi bedsitland chamber music pop and it is surprisingly good, 18 minutes of beauty

The Oak Ridge Boys – 17th Avenue Revival – Producer Dave Cobb has worked with every major country contemporary superhero from Jason Isbell to Chris Stapleton and here he Rick Rubins the Oak Ridge Boys spirituals

Yellow Claw – Amsterdam Trap Music, Vol. 3 – Some of the best trap beats I’ve heard all year, I wonder why they haven’t made a fortune selling em to Atlanta rappers

Night Owl EP – Jessi Mason – Terrific singer songwriter who nails all six songs, especially the one about understanding herself and the one about getting Joni Mitchell

Big Star – Live At Lafayette’s Music Room – Memphis, TN – The birth of Big Star as critics darlings (opening for Archie Bell And The Drells) in 1973, songs off #1 Record, songs not yet on Radio City, and some strong covers. Thus are legends born

Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac (Deluxe) – A coupla years past the Cali Mac revival spearheaded by Dawes, here comes the remastered first shot from the soft rock Mac, first album remastered, second album filled with early takes (proving how fully formed the songs were), and finally live tracks from their 1975 tour. Hang around for a late “Oh Well”

Frank Zappa and The Mothers – The Roxy Performances (Live) – From December 1973, this is a definitive exploration of prime Zappa live, if you want to know what all the fuss is about binge listen this, this is Miles Davis good. I’m not a huge Zappa fan, but wow he was on some wild musically plateau we ain’t caught up with yet. The best bit? That “Be-Bop Tango” is completely bonkers

Nina Simone – The Colpix Singles – 27 songs from the start of her career to just before she hit it big

Andrew Lloyd Webber – Unmasked: The Platinum Collection (Deluxe)- This is an odd greatest hit, from Boyzone to Barbra Streisand,it is linked to his memoir but doesn’t follow his career trajectory as written about in Unmasked (which ends with Phantom).Still, it’s nice to hear the best (more or less -three songs from “Aspects Of Love” at the end -just… don’t) in one place

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