Music does not forget. It even helps us remember.
Listen to “Ozarks at Large”
Listen to Fayetteville Flyer contributor Kevin Kinder discuss these albums and hear clips from many of them courtesy of a discussion with Kyle Kellams of KUAF 91.3 FM. The segment can be heard during the Dec. 31 edition of “Ozarks at Large,” which airs at noon and again at 7 p.m. You can also listen online.
It can capture our individual moods, and it can capture the national mood as well. I’m struck by this as I go through the albums that appealed to me in 2018. Many are from familiar favorites. Others worked their way into my consciousness by capturing my emotions. It’s a strange exercise to revisit my album of the year lists from several years ago. Those were the albums I needed in the moment, and they mean different things to me now that time has passed. I still listen, but they mostly serve a purpose of reminding me of where I was at the time. Or maybe where we all were.
The albums below are the ones that spoke to me in 2018. I hope you found a collection of songs or albums that moved your soul this year, too.
Note: Several of the videos contain adult language and themes, so proceed (or don’t) knowing that.
10. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Sparkle Hard”
I’m a sucker for everything that Stephen Malkmus has ever done, and he consistently makes some of the weirdest noise rock records available. This one sounds exactly like you’d expect it to sound – fresh, wild and full of guitar. That Malkmus and company sound so good here tells you how far ahead of the times he was with Pavement and later The Jicks, his band of more than 15 years. I feel like “Middle America” is the standout track here, but it’s all so good.
9. Ashley Monroe – “Sparrow”
Sometimes overshadowed by her counterparts in country supergroup The Pistol Annies (who also made a solid record this year), Ashley Monroe continues her hot streak with some really wonderful songs. She moves between unabashedly sexy (“Hands on Me”) and somberly sentimental (“Mother’s Daughter”) with ease and shows her chops as a writer in the process. It’s an ambitious work for modern country, and not many country artists write (or co-write) their own songs, but that’s a big part of what makes this one so thrilling.
8. U.S. Girls – “In a Poem Unlimited”
Every year brings new musical discoveries, and U.S. Girls is that newness for me in 2018. Meghan Remy has been making music under the name U.S. Girls for a decade, but I wasn’t aware of her work until finding this album. “In a Poem Unlimited” is in some ways a traditional pop album, full of hooky grooves. But it’s also something more, with hints of darkness and dreariness masked by the sweeping horns of the jazz band she recorded much of the album with. You could almost dance to this one while weeping for the future.
7. Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake”
This album, and Parquet Courts in general, comes as a direct descendant of the Stephen Malkmus school of songwriting (see entry No. 10). The prolific punk rockers from New York have grown up some, and their songwriting is better for it. Songs like “Total Football” and “Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience” find them in top form – ready to fight, perhaps, but more likely to stir you to headbanging. Contained in this batch are many of the best songs they’ve ever written. Plus, any album that takes a shot at NFL quarterback Tom Brady gets bonus points from me.
6. Deafheaven – “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love”
I’m a little shaken that Deafheaven received a Grammy nomination. I think the band members are as well. But they’ve made their best record yet, one that I couldn’t stop listening to during the year. It’s mood metal – something gritty and dark but full of melody as well. Take “Honeycomb,” the track below. It’s nearly 12 minutes long, and it veers between classic rock and screamo metal. It’s gorgeous and haunting, the two most common attributes of the band’s best music.
5. Shame – “Songs of Praise”
I sadly missed Shame when they came to Fayetteville in early March and performed at Smoke & Barrel Tavern. But during the run-up to their show, I checked out their debut album “Songs of Praise.” It floored me. The unbridled nature of their performances (I was able to see them this summer in Chicago) has been captured on this record. It’s a stunning display of pure punk rock, and it lead The Guardian to call them London’s “angriest, shoutiest young British guitar band.” That’s my kind of music. Roger, please bring Shame back to Arkansas. Thanks.
4. Mitski – “Be the Cowboy”
The great Iggy Pop said among the newest batch of songwriters, he was most impressed with Mitski. As a general piece of life advice, it’s wise to listen to Iggy Pop. Mitski’s fifth album dazzles on the strength of her lyrical work while plunging into topics such as loneliness and isolation. It’s not quite as sad as that would make it sound (but it’s pretty sad). Mitski has created a big soundscape here, lush and sprawling and willing to explore electronic flourishes that augment her takedown of the cult of the cowboy.
3. Neko Case – “Hell-on”
Terrible album art aside, “Hell-on” was exactly the kind of album that you hoped Neko Case would make. Returning to songwriting after a fire destroyed her home, there’s an urgency that permeates almost every song, although it’s sometimes cut with Case’s snarky approach to life. Her effortless, wild voice remains as one of the most compelling in any music genre. I dare you to listen to her song “Bad Luck” and not feel sorry for her but simultaneously thankful we live in the world at the same time Neko does.
2. Kacey Musgraves – “Golden Hour”
Kacey Musgraves has been flirting with becoming country music royalty for some time now. But she continues her just-on-the-fringe approach with “Golden Hour,” a collection of sweet and sassy songs that are simultaneously very clever. Fans of her past work will find much to like, such as “Rainbow,” while those who arrive with “Golden Hour” as their introduction will find a country songwriter who harkens back to era of smartly turned phrases but has perhaps finally also found new contentedness. There’s a lot to like in both approaches.
1. Janelle Monae – “Dirty Computer”
This could have been the No. 1 record in our household by number of plays alone. Janelle Monae’s latest album owes a lot to Prince – she took a synth riff he wrote and transformed it into a hit. But this album seems like a representational document in a complicated world. It’s bold and brash, and it jumps between genres and descriptions. Monae had been nearly famous for some time, but this album seals her fate as one of our most intriguing and creative music makers. A blend of r&b, technology and sex, Monae understands the world and plants her flag as an artist to be reckoned with.