Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Best of 2018: The Best New Albums I Heard

This seems like apt category in which to admit that I've been a broken record.

For years, perhaps decades now, I've been complaining that there have been relatively few new artists in a rock vein that have gotten me excited--especially on an ongoing basis.

Yes, there are acts such as Ash and Maximo Park and Arcade Fire who have popped up on multiple "Best New Albums of (Year)" lists, but all are at least a dozen years old.

Late last year, as I was rummaging through albums I had gleaned might be worthy of "Best of 2017" consideration, I discovered Life Without Sound by the Cloud Nothings.

After several listenings, I decided it was the best album I'd heard all year, and it topped my list.

But not only can't I say that I returned to it often this year, until the past couple weeks I was oblivious to the Cloud Nothings releasing a follow-up, Last Building Burning.

And I don't like it nearly as much.

So with relatively few albums that catch my attention--and fancy--throughout the year, I try my best to listen to several in a cluster of December weeks, and see what I like best.

But though I am trying to gauge the merits--as per my preferences, which lean toward guitar-driven hard rock--of any particular album, I realized I somehow also should factor in what I'm likely to stick with and return to.

This year, my favorite discovery was a band called the Struts, who are unabashedly retro, with a singer and sound that recalls--without matching--Queen and a Cuisinart of other classic rock influences.

Noting that they would be opening for the Foo Fighters at Wrigley Field in late July, I listened to and loved their then-only album, Everybody Wants, which was released in 2014, and re-issued in the U.S. in 2016.

Their new album, Young and Dangerous, was released in late-October, and likewise has several songs that are unabashedly fun. It also has some that are, candidly, rather dumb and not so great, and I can't call the album a masterpiece.

Still, it is the 2018 album I've most enjoyed hearing, and presumably the one I will continue to most often. So while I don't think it historically good, it tops my list of:

My Favorite New Rock Albums of 2018

1. The Struts - Young and Dangerous (Spotify link)

2. Elvis Costello - Look Now (Spotify link)

3. Superchunk - What a Time to Be Alive (Spotify link)

4. Ash - Islands (Spotify link)

5. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs (Spotify link)

6. The Vaccines- Combat Sports (Spotify link)

7. David Byrne - American Utopia (Spotify link)

8. John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness (Spotify link)

9. Kyle Craft - Full Circle Nightmare (Spotify link) 

10. Paul McCartney Egypt Station (Spotify link)

11. Judas Priest - FIREPOWER (Spotify link)

Honorable Mention

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer (Spotify link)
The Chills - Snow Bound (Spotify link)
Mitski - Be the Cowboy (Spotify link)
Paul Weller - True Meanings (Spotify link)
Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour (Spotify link)
Cloud Nothings - Last Building Burning (Spotify link)
Albert Hammond Jr. - Francis Trouble (Spotify link)

Reissues, Live Albums, etc.

John Coltrane - Both Directions at Once (Spotify link)
The great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane died in 1967, and even in just the past few years, there have been many archival releases and reissues, typically featuring Trane performances. 2018's release of Miles Davis & John Coltrane, The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 being just one example. Both Directions at Once is a bit different, as it is from a recording session Coltrane did with his classic quartet in 1963, but whose tapes had long been lost. Hence, almost all of it is of material never heard. And it is brilliant.

David Bowie - Glastonbury 2000 (Live) (Spotify link)

Midnight Oil - Armistice Day: Live at the Domain, Sydney (Spotify link)

R.E.M. at the BBC (Spotfiy link) - Several discs worth of live in studio and live in concert recordings.

The Beatles - The Beatles (White Album) Reissue, featuring Esher Demos (Spotify link) - The Esher Demos are acoustic recordings the Beatles made prior to working on the actual album versions. And they sound wonderful.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Live Archive Recordings
Available via These are the ones I purchased:
● East Rutherford, NJ (without ESB) 6/24/93
Boston 11/19/07
● Freehold (solo) 1996
● Roxy (LA) 7/7/78
● Wembley Arena (London) 6/5/81
● Chicago 9/30/99
● Helsinki 6/16/03
Leeds 7/24/13

Of these, London '81 would probably be my top recommendation.

Pearl Jam has also long released official bootlegs of their concerts--which can be found here--and having attended their two Wrigley Field shows in Chicago (August 18 & 20, 2018), I enjoy owning them.

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