It has been an amazing and eclectic year for music. My top ten this year includes a couple of new artists, a couple of folks who have reinvented themselves and two completely reworked and recorded albums. It seems like reflection and reexamination are the key words in this year’s top ten. I’ll be back next week with some alternate picks that didn’t quite make the cut.
1. tUnE-yArDs – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life
This was one of the first records that really caught my attention this year and it has remained at the forefront since January. Here Merrill Garbus takes the time to reflect on her process and the impact of her work in the world. This is a very personal and experimental record that tempers its gleeful moments with serious introspection on the role that music should play in shaping our understanding of the world. This is also our one-year-old’s favorite record of the year. “Heart Attack” is one of his favorite songs.
2. Haley Heynderickx – I Need to Start a Garden
Portland based singer/songwriter Heynderickx made a huge statement with her debut record. This is an amazing example of what indie folk can be. The songs are playful, personal and exquisitely executed. Heynderickx is a master storyteller weaving grand metaphors into everyday moments.
3. Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Janelle Monáe doesn’t release albums so much as she curates experiences. Her third studio album—Dirty Computer—was accompanied by a narrative film that features Monáe in character as the rebellious android at the center of this concept record. It’s so hard to quantify all that Monáe does in her music. Here she looks back in order to plot a path forward and in doing so creates a timeless sound coupled with a real exploration of our contemporary moment.
4. Lucy Dacus – Historian
Lucy Dacus (who released my favorite record of 2016) has had a very productive 2018. In addition to her excellent collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker—Boygenius—she has released another exemplary solo record. “Night Shift” is one of the truly great tracks of the year. There is a yearning in Dacus’ music that immediately engages the listener’s empathy. We want to understand with her why life proceeds the way it does.
5. Trevor Powers – Mulberry Violence
In 2016 Trevor Powers retired the name Youth Lagoon since then simply releasing music under his name. Mulberry Violence is his first full length release of this era and it is spellbinding. Powers deconstructs the smooth polish of his Youth Lagoon years and exposes the grit and violence of the musical process in a flood of experimentation. There is a richness to this sound that enfolds the listener as it builds.
6. Mitski – Be the Cowboy
This record put together so many of the pieces that Mitski has been finely crafting over her past few records. Everything about this album feels at once carefully crafted as well as effortlessly accomplished. Her voice is exposed and honest. Her guitar comes out from behind the distortion of the last record. Mitski’s exploration of the anxieties of life appear here fully realized.
7. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy
For Twin Fantasy, Will Toledo went back to a record he wrote and recorded when he was 19 and completely reworked the entire album. While the original version of this record is steeped in the confusion and urgency of late teenage years and passionate desire, the reimagined version wryly nods to those feelings while keeping them intact. One of the things I love about this record is that the music seems to be actively trying to escape it—there is so much frenetic activity in the margins and background. It all comes together perfectly to build this honest tension between passion and introspection.
8. St. Vincent – MassEducation
I’ve spoken a great deal about this record so far this year. St. Vincent has reworked her excellent masseducation as the piano masterpiece MassEducation. This radical change in tone and presentation gives these songs a completely different life. By stepping out from behind the guitar Clark has highlighted her deft skill as a songwriter.
9. Matt Maltese – Bad Contestant
When the NME dubbed Schmaltzcore the next big thing earlier this year, they highlighted Matt Maltese as one of its initial heroes. Schmaltzcore has brought soft-pop back by giving it a modern edge and letting the irony inherent in that union provide little revelations about both our world and the relatively sedate origins of these sounds. For his part Maltese skirts the line between the two perfectly. He provides a sardonic take on the romantic song as updated by the present.
10. Bodega – Endless Scroll
Brooklyn based post-punks Bodega have created a remarkable record that balances clever observation and wit with deadpan humor all tied together with searing vocals. This record was produced by Austin Brown of The Parquet Courts and that influence comes through beautifully with the spacious arrangements giving life to the playfulness of the lyrics. Some of the most timely observations on our technological culture are hidden away in these tracks.
To Do This Week
Tonight Elton John is at the Smoothie King Center and Atmosphere is at the Joy while Wild Pink are at Gasa and Rising Appalacia are at One Eyed Jacks. Friday Daria and The Hip Drops are at Gasa. Saturday Mike Fulton and Dave Ruffner are at Fritzel’s. Sunday The Garden are at Republic with Machine Girl. Monday you can see Gal Holiday at Three Muses. Wednesday Andrew Combs is at Gasa and Tank and the Bangas are at the Howlin’ Wolf.
To Listen This Week
- Phoebe Bridgers has released a great Christmas song via Youtube
- Excellent new track from The Decemberists via Youtube
- New music and a new video from Grimes via Youtube