Top 100 Albums of 2018: #50-26

#50: Gulfer, Dog Bless
Canadian indie rock group that plays in odd time signatures, which often change (sometimes multiply) within the same track. Tempos shift, the music starts and stops suddenly, but it never comes off as clever or forced. Definitely a punk and emo feel at times.

 

#49: Ry Cooder, Prodigal Son
One of the all time masters of the slide guitar and top “professors” of American (and world) musical history  released an album mixing originals and covers (Blind Willie Johnson is featured twice) that more than adequately demonstrates why he is a master. The instrumentation is eclectic and perfectly executed, each song a perfect slice of Americana, stomping R&B, blues, and gospel. His cover of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is particularly affecting, gorgeous acoustic slide work over low sawing on a cello.

 

#48: Candi Staton, Unstoppable
At 76 years of age, the soul and gospel singer shows the younger folks how to do it. She just gives it on this, her 30th album. She’s got “Confidence” as she wails on the opening track.

 

#47: Ryan Culwell, The Last American
One of the finest singer-songwriters in the U.S. right now. His ear is pressed closely to the stories and issues in, for lack of a better word, the heartland. The lead song, “Can You Hear Me?,” is one of the best songs I heard in 2018, a plea for those in power to listen to the marginalized, whether it’s the narrator living in a rural area or African American men, as represented by the 11 repetitions of “I can’t breathe” which is the last thing police brutality victim Eric Garner said.

 

#46: Laura Veirs, The Lookout
A feel of delicate English folk combined with Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter. “Margaret Sands” captures this vibe perfectly: lightly plucked acoustic (you can hear her fingers slide across the strings) with chill electric fills and echoey background voices upfront in the mix. “Everybody Needs You” has a trip hop feel with a low rumbling bass and electronic percussion. Seamlessly and subtly blends different styles from the first songs to the trip hop vibe of the second to the steel guitar twang of “Seven Falls.”

 

#45: Kurt Vile, Bottle It In
I love the feel of Vile’s music. It rocks along in a laid back, stoned and occasionally thudding kind of way while his slightly sardonic and slack voice rolls and bops on top. My only complaint is some songs linger longer than is necessary: there are two tunes over 10 minutes and one just under 10. I love a good droning kind of tune but four or five minutes of minor variations grates.

 

#44: Mary Gauthier, Rifles and Rosary Beads
A series of exquisitely and sympathetically drawn character sketches of soldiers and their kin, layered over old timey Americana music. “Brothers” is a plea from a female soldier for respect. “Bullet Holes in the Sky” captures a soldier’s sense that being thanked for his service is just lip service, but still doesn’t affect his deep sense of duty.

 

#43: Courtney Marie Andrews, May Your Kindness Remain
This is a powerful and moving collection of country-tinged pop. Her voice is exquisite and the wraps beautifully around sometimes painful portraits of average people dealing with the vagaries of life.

 

#42: Matthew “Doc” Dunn, Lightbourn
One of the stranger (or, more politely, eclectic) songwriters around, Dunn tones down the weirdness a little bit and creates a fascinating collection of slightly twisted folk-rock. He sings in a clear, sweet tenor and wraps this voice around country- and neo-soul gems like “Roads” and “Mind of My Lover.” Simple One” is one of the sweetest songs I’ve heard in years.

 

#41: Jonathan Wilson, Rare Birds
He‘s got a whole psychedelia/1970s thing going. He manages to jam them both into one song, the opener “Trafalgar Square” and other tracks do something similar. The title track, for example, has a kind of Al Stewart vibe but then there’s a floaty bridge that drops it back into the ‘60s.

 

#40: tune-yards, i can feel your creep into my private life
Merrill Garbus is one of the most adventurous musical artists we’ve got, managing to tread that fine line between experimental/artistic and accessible. On this release, she brings the electronic beats and loses some of the quirkiness while still creating a unique and interesting work. “Colonizer” is a potent view of white privilege.

 

#39: Django Django, Marble Skies
The third album from this British band finds them churning along with a nice ‘80s vibe on many tracks. “Beam Me Up” is a nice bit of Depeche Mode-inspired pop with a menacing synth bass line.

 

#38: Virginia Wing, Ecstatic Arrow
Alicia Richards sings in a cool, offhand manner. In fact, she often speaks or chants the vocals. Underneath, she and band partner Sam Pillay lay down a bed of synth beats that recall the heyday of Soft Cell or OMD, and accent her meditations on female power.

 

#37: Darlingside, Extra Life
Some of the sweetest and most delicate harmonies I’ve heard in a while layered over simple but rhythmic backing tracks to create a sound that stands out immediately. “Eschaton” is my favorite track, a smooth melody with odd harmonies (it strangely makes me think of the Police’s “Invisible Sun”) that builds beautifully.

 

#36: Meg Myers, Take Me to the Disco
The mournful chorus of title track makes it clear she really doesn’t want him to take her to the disco but feels she has no other option, doesn’t know where to turn and has to give in. This is an album of very personal and deeply emotional observations.

 

#35: The GO! Team, SEMICIRCLE
Super fun, big-hearted and upbeat dance pop with a funky R&B feel. With song titles like “Plans Are Like a Dream U Organize,” the optimism is on full display. “Mayday” opens the album with a blast of energy and a horn riff right out of Rocky. “The Semicircle Song” is awesome, like a funky marching band tune, complete with cute voices reciting their names and Zodiac symbols! (It’s not as cheesy as it sounds. Or maybe it’s exactly as cheesy as it sounds and that’s what makes it so awesome!)

 

#34: The Suffers, Everything Here
The name somehow made me think I was going to hear hardcore, emo or death metal. I was not prepared for classic ‘70s soul and R&B (with occasionally jazzy flavors, such as the flute on “The One About Sace”). Great horn runs, fabulous group vocals, funky bass lines: it’s all here for anyone who’s a fan of great soul and R&B.

 

#33: Welles, Red Trees and White Trashes
The moniker for solo artist Jesse Wells, and his first album under this name, this album could be captured by the song “Rock N Roll”: “Rock and roll doesn’t eat, and rock and roll doesn’t sleep, and rock and roll does drugs, rock and roll just shrugs, and says leave me be.” Yes, this is rock ‘n’ roll, crunchy, loud, occasionally sloppy, always urgent.

 

#32: St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Young Sick Camellia
Another one of this year’s “ravers” (i.e., soul albums that just kick it with classic soul voices, horn breaks, and great backbeats), this eight-piece band from Alabama has its heart firmly in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The strings on “GotItBad” are pure disco heaven but escape the disco trap with funky bass and low horn riffs. “Apollo” plumbs the same territory with fun results. Paul Janeway’s voice is what really drives this into the soul camp. He has one those voices that’s capable of high pleading and low growling. In short, he brings the soul to the terrific backbone of the band.

 

#31: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Tearing at the Seams
There isn’t a single original thing here. The vocals sound like David Clayton Thomas (or, occasionally, Van Morrison), the horn riffs could be lifted from any Stax or Mussel Shoals recording, and overall vibe lies deeply in 1960s soul music. And you know what? Who TF cares? This is awesome, sweaty, shake your booty, scream your guts out music with more soul than seems possible.

 

#30: Anna von Hausswolff, Dead Magic
Von Hausswolff is singularly keeping the organ alive in popular music – and not the happy, trilling organ of, say, “Hunger Heart,” but the serious church/pipe organ of classical music. Take her very expressive and moody voice (equally capable of quiet musings or explosive shrilling), layer it over top of thundering orchestral arrangements (and that organ) and the result is like a classical music version of Goth. This is not music to relax to; it’s music to swing your head with your eyes closed and feel all the emotion contained therein. Listen to the “Mysterious Vanishing of Electra” (Electra is, coincidentally, one of her five names) and tell me your heart doesn’t leap with her voice.

 

#29: Ought, Room Inside the World
Off-kilter post-punk art rock. There are a number of key elements that make their sound unique but two stand out: the drumming, which often lands off the beat or seems to be working on a different time signature all together, and the vocals, which sometimes hint at a working class English accent, even though they’re Canadian.

 

#28: The Lemon Twigs, Go to School
It’s hard to tell where the line between serious and ironic is being drawn here if only due to the tone of the lead voices, which can lend a bit of a jokey feel. “The Student Becomes the Teacher” is an exaggerated glam torch song. “Rock Dreams” has the same feel. On the other hand, “The Lesson” sounds like a musical hall number and you can imagine a song and dance number occurring to “Small Victories.”

 

#27: Andrew W.K., You’re Not Alone
Like a male version of Florence + the Machine: incredibly powerful, driving, highly emotive (almost too much at times – it can be tiring), and uplifting. How uplifting? There are actually a couple of spoken word pieces that are lifted right out of the  motivational speaker playbook. His voice isn’t particularly strong but the slightly hoarse delivery just adds to the authenticity and power of the music.

 

#26: Chvrches, Love Is Dead
Highly melodic synth-pop driven by lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s powerful voice

 

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