Opinion, Reviews

2018 music review: A year of eclectic gems

It’s hard to label one year a “great year for music” because in reality, great music is being created every day, and each year is full of new unique releases.

This year was no different, and I put together a list of what I think were the best releases of the year. This list is in every way my opinion and I couldn’t limit myself to ten choices, so I included some extra albums and singles that deserved a mention.

All of these musicians rock, and I hope you take the time to give them all a listen.

Honorable mentions:

A small, but fun release by the four-piece New Zealand band to build off the momentum of their 2017 release “Willowbank.”

One of the most anticipated indie releases of the year, but it just doesn’t match the intensity of their self-titled release or the creativity from “I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It”

Another highly anticipated release mostly for the Kansas City music scene. The KC natives’ debut album finally delivers on the potential displayed in their 2015 hit single “Hands Down.”

The Nashville native took a different approach to her third studio album. The debut single “Numb” projected her frustrations with her label, Atlantic — the two parties mutually agreed to part ways following the release.

Listener has been rocking out of Kansas City since 2002 and this release furthers their ability to combine hard rock music with thought-provoking vocals. If this is the first you’re hearing of them, I suggest giving this a listen before diving in.

  1. 10. Father John Misty: “God’s Favorite Customer”
  • Genre: Indie Folk
  • Sub Pop/ Bella Union

  • If you aren’t familiar with Joshua Tillman, known by his stage name, Father John Misty, then the best way to describe the former Fleet Foxes drummer is “strange.” The fourth release under the FJM moniker doesn’t accomplish a whole lot, but it’s hard to break out of the trance Tillman puts you in as he pours his heart out in the most brutal, honest way I’ve heard yet.
  • Favorites: “Please Don’t Die,” “Mr. Tillman,” “Date Night,” and “Hangout At The Gallows
  1. 9. Twenty One Pilots: “Trench”
  • Genre: Indie/Pop
  • Fueled by Ramen

  • It seems like just yesterday that Twenty One Pilots was on the cusp of blowing up, but after a little over two years of selling out arenas and topping charts with their fourth album “Blurryface,” the Columbus duo showed their ability to produce at a new level. “Trench” is a rare instance of staying true to the style they spent so long creating while showing their ability to evolve to the stardom they’ve achieved. I’m wholeheartedly convinced the hate for this group comes out of spite because they are so well liked. Tyler Joseph and Joshua Dunn have been nothing short of genuine and grateful in their rise to becoming one of the most popular bands in the country.

Favorites: “My Blood,” “Neon Gravestones,” “Chlorine,” and “Morph.”

  1. 8. Gregory Alan Isakov: “Evening Machines”
  • Genre: Folk
  • Suitcase Town Music

  • The solo folk artist Gregory Alan Isakov has cultivated a sizeable listener base over his 15-plus year career as a musician. His ability to write clear and understandable lyrics that still manage to yank on your heartstrings in ways you don’t understand is undervalued greatly. It’s made even more impressive when backed up by the moving and well-paced instrumentals that paint a stunning environment for you to close your eyes and imagine. All of Isakov’s albums possess these qualities and I say with confidence that you’re missing out if you haven’t given him a try yet.
  • Favorites: “Caves,” “Chemicals,” “Too Far Away,” and “Where You Gonna Go.”
  1. 7. Amy Shark: “Love Monster”
  • Genre: Indie Pop
  • Wonderlick Entertainment/Sony Music Australia

  • The debut album from the Australian singer-songwriter is bold and empowering. In the same way that similar artists Halsey and Lorde did in their debuts, Shark held nothing back and took a swing for the fences following the success of her 2016 hit single “Adore.” The result is an album of tracks that anyone can relate to. “I Said Hi” projects Shark’s frustrations with breaking into the music industry with expectations from her parents to give up and return to reality, while “The Idiot” tackles her struggles with falling in and out of love. Much of the subject matter of “Love Monster” carries a negative vibe, but Shark brings it all together with strong beats and great conclusions where she shows she can conquer the obstacles of life.
  • Favorites: “Adore,” “Mess Her Up,” “The Idiot,” and “I Got You.”
  1. 6. Jack Stauber:  “HiLo”
  • Genre: Pop Rock
  • Plopscotch Records

  • Jack Stauber is a singer/songwriter from Pittsburgh and his fourth self-released album “HiLo” continues the trend he’s set over his five-year career of challenging what is normal. Stauber has always gotten his fix from incorporating sounds into his songs that you would never expect to hear and it’s no different on “HiLo.” Stauber demonstrates continuously that he can take a song and navigate through numerous styles without the listener realizing it before it’s over. It’s best displayed on “Leopard” where Stauber does his best Sinatra before completely changing the song again and again and again, all in five minutes. It’s crazy, funky and it’s where he thrives.
  • Favorites: “Leopard,” “John and Nancy,” “Gettin’ My Mom On,” and “Dead Weight.”
  1. 5. Mt. Joy: “Mt. Joy”
  • Genre: Indie
  • Dualtone

  • The Los Angeles-based indie band Mt. Joy quickly burst onto the scene with their debut self-titled album following their formation barely two years prior. “I’m Your Wreck” kicks off the album and initially feels like a slow folk track before building to a groovy transition where vocalist Matt Quinn belts the lyrics to a conclusion that no one can resist jamming out to. “Sheep” brings the same vibe while lyrically engaging the political and racial unrest in the United States. This is just the start of what we will get from Mt. Joy in the coming years and this release is an indication that they understand how to make music in today’s climate.
  • Favorites: “I’m Your Wreck,” “Sheep,” “Dirty Love,” and “Silver Lining.”
  1. 4. Brockhampton: “Iridescence”
  • Genre: Hip Hop/Rap
  • Question Everything/RCA

  • The fourth studio album in 14 months from the self-proclaimed boy band that largely hails from San Marcos, Texas, is bold just like its predecessors and was the group’s first real test with overcoming controversy. The road to “Iridescence” was rocky and involved scrapping two prior plans for the group’s fourth album and took an overseas tour in the UK to find their inspiration. Eleven days in Abbey Road was all that was needed to write, record and master “Iridescence,” and the flaws in the production of the album stand out more than anything. Still, it’s the same Brockhampton vibe we got in the Saturation trilogy and, more than anything, a great showcase of the improvement each member has made in their own careers. Fans finally got a studio version of “TONYA” and a similar feeling song in “SAN MARCOS” where the emotions of the members are on full display. Brockhampton doesn’t let their releases linger long, so it’ll be fun to see if they decide to slow down their pace and really dive into writing an album.
  • Favorites: “DISTRICT,” “J’OUVERT,” “VIVID,” and “FABRIC.”
  1. 3. Twin Peaks: “Sweet ‘17 Singles”
  • Genre: Garage Rock
  • Fat Possum/Grand Jury Music

  • The band Twin Peaks has been fighting with the television show and restaurant chain of the same name for brand recognition since the group’s inception back in 2010. The album “Sweet ‘17 Singles” is a collection of singles released in 2017 but released as a whole at the beginning of 2018. So, thankfully, it can be included here. Twin Peaks has revived garage rock as far as I’m concerned and this album is full of songs that I’d only expect to hear at a house show. It’s full of fun lyrics and melodies that are relaxing and carefree, making it the ultimate easy-listening experience.
  • Favorites: “Under the Pines,” “With You,” “Shake Your Lonely,” and “Tossing Tears.”

2.  Adam Jones: “Disco Ballet”

  • Genre: Indie Folk
  • Dawson Records

  • Adam Jones is a singer-songwriter and former frontman of Idaho-based folk group Hollow Wood, the band that is responsible for what might be the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Jones disbanded Hollow Wood to pursue a solo career and wasted no time releasing his first single “You Can Run” just days later. “Disco Ballet” opens with the track “True North” where Jones is detailing his decision to go solo and how it was hard to realize he wasn’t moving in the right direction anymore. The track “Slide On” with The Guest & The Host (can’t recommend this guy enough either) is the ultimate easy listen in which Jones moves slowly through each verse before exploding for a powerful chorus. The closing track, “Portals of Gold (Guinevere),” incorporates synth sounds throughout and Jones sings and strums away for a conclusion that should leave anyone that made it to the end hungry for more.
  • Favorites: “True North,” “Slide On,” “Mom’s Missing Church Again,” and “Portals of Gold (Guinevere).”
  1. 1. Caroline Rose: “Loner”
  • Genre: Indie Rock/Pop
  • New West Records

  • Caroline Rose is one of the coolest music turnarounds of perhaps the last decade. Rose began her career as an Americana musician and her first two studio albums were reflections of that. Rose left the country genre following her 2014 release and has completely put that part of her career in the past now with “Loner.” The album begins with the track “More of the Same” where Rose addresses the feeling of disillusionment when she set out to change her career. The biggest strength of this album is the way Rose flows from song to song, changing styles while keeping the listener engaged. “Cry” is second and is a straight-up anthem in which Rose describes the expectations weighing on her while also refusing to crack under them and become another stereotype. Rose does a great job of engaging her listener and creating tracks that anyone can vibe with on “Loner.” The only weakness I find is that the album is front-loaded with the back end struggling to live up to the likes of “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” and “Getting To Me.” It’s rare to see artists change their look, genre and altogether style and find such success. We should all be thankful that Rose found her niche with “Loner” because we’ll be getting a lot more.
  • Favorites: “Getting To Me,” “Money,” “Soul No. 5,” “Jeannie Becomes A Mom.”

Solid Singles:

A complete jam. These guys deserve more attention and I hope they get it soon.

  • Bondi Blue: “43

The first single from a small project involving The Neighborhood drummer, Brandon Fried.

Great song, but check out the original version for a super strange experience.

These guys have been killing it since their debut release “Language and Perspective” in 2014. This track carries a punk vibe likely prompted by their switch to Epitaph Records earlier in the year. As always with Bad Suns, it’s a fresh track.

Emarosa is taking steps to change their sound and the first single off their forthcoming album “Peach Club,” is the band’s first attempt to abandon their post-hardcore roots for a more pop-influenced sound.

An interesting collaboration between former Youtube star Jarrod Alonge, Lauren Babic of Red Handed Denial and Patty Walters of As It Is has the post-hardcore scene on their toes as they prepare to release their crowdfunded debut album “Burning Alive.”

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