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What I Heard in 2018

It’s about that time of year again. Today I’m going to list my favorite five albums I heard this year. In terms of music, I wasn’t blown-away by much released this year. Most of what I bought were albums released ten or even twenty years ago. I wouldn’t classify this as nostalgia because what I was listening to wasn’t really what I was listening to at that time. Nevertheless it was a shift from last year which I thought was an excellent year for new music. That said my favorite release this year is one of my favorite albums in quite some time.

#5) Be the Cowboy by Mitski: Propulsive, poignant electro-pop with a lead singer who seems to narrating, moment by moment the day she realized she had the ability to survive everything weighing her down. Survive, that is, if she did everything exactly the way she needed to. This is album composed of highly danceable anthems to self-possession and there’s not a single track that doesn’t contain some moment of cataclysmic heart-break set to a memorable electrified and so familiar soundtrack. Highlights: Geyser, Old Friend, and A Pearl.

#4) Dirty Computer - Janelle Monáe: I bought it. I loved it. Janelle Monáe stepped back from her synthetic alt-personality on this album to inhabit more fully...herself, a kind of hyper-aware, determinedly funky, singer/songwriter. Instead of a concept album, Dirty Computer sounds like social media posts set to music, which considering Monáe has a wicked sense of humor and a engagingly down-to-earth weirdness, works very, very well. A summer album so perfect it makes every day about 10% brighter. Highlights: Dirty Computer, Crazy, Classic, Life, and Screwed.

#3) Ordinary Corrupt Human Love - Deafheaven: At some point this year I got into metal. Not just any metal but the grinding, singer shredding his voice, obliterate all resistance strain of metal I have NEVER liked before. What can I say? I started going to gym this year and I needed some appropriate soundtracks. Okay, that’s a little flippant. In actuality, I finally got around to picking up Slayer’s Reign in Blood and found I really loved guitar thrash for guitar thrash’s sake. So, after a few twists and turns, I eventually wound up here. Deafheaven is basically My Bloody Valentine only screamed instead of cooed softly. The same emotional heft and obvious compositional talent are there, but Deafheaven, as befitting its post-metal background hits with more immediate visceral intensity. Highlights: Honeycomb, Canary, and Glint.

#2) Joy is an act of Resistance - IDLES: Earlier this year I wrote my admiration and enjoyment of this post-punk slab of pure energy. IDLES are not really what you might think, as a band, and a creative force. What they appear to be is an unstable mix of angular Wire-style rave-ups mixed with a Mekons or Chumbawumba populist singer. In actuality they are an excellent example of how when you choose a particular voice and stick with it, there is no topic that cannot be made into killer song. Highlights: Colussus, Never Fight a Man With a Perm, Danny Nedelko, and Love Song.

#1) Rifles and Rosary Beads - Mary Gauthier: This one is a weird one for me in the sense the songs concern experiences I don’t have. Each of these tracks details the struggles and pain of veterans of foreign wars, often filtered through the singer-songwriter’s incisive and plain-spoken voice. Tracks like “Soldering On,” however struck me on a profound level. The observation that one set of skills that kept you alive cannow slowly kill you is one that I am very familiar with. Even though it feels slightly uncomfortable to identify with songs of veterans rather than simply appreciate them, I have to be honest about why I’ve enjoyed this album so much. Although I probably no right to claim this, I nevertheless feel as though these songs spoke to and comforted me in a time when I really needed that message.

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