Those of you who read my yearly “top releases” lists, I thank you very much. I’ve been doing these for over 10 years now, but this one may or may not be my last one for Blogcritics Magazine. I hope to continue these lists if and when our new offshoot takes off later this year. Until then, enjoy this compilation of what I thought ruled in 2018. In no particular order or ranking, these are the studio albums, EPs, live releases and reissues that stood out to me the most.
Neil Young – Songs for Judy
2018 was a banner year for Young fans. First was the “beta” version of his archive website, then its official opening – you have to check out the ultra cool digital file cabinets! This live 23-track 1976 release features Young solo in several American towns (including my hometown of Boston, MA), playing on guitar, harmonica, and piano. They include a particularly tough and raw performance of “Mr. Soul,” a tender run through of “Too Far Gone,” the folksy “Human Highway” (on banjo), and previously unreleased tune “No One Seems to Know.” It’s Neil Young live in the ’70s. You just can’t go wrong with anything from that era.
Windhand – Eternal Return
Legendary Seattle musician/producer Jack Endino is still around – and helmed one of the finer efforts by this female-fronted Virginian doom metal group.
Liz Phair – Girly-Sound to Guyville box set
Much like the legendary White Album-era Esher demos by The Beatles, Liz Phair’s 1991 Girly-Sound tapes were bootlegged over the years but were incomplete. That is until 2018. This box set celebrates Phair’s critically-acclaimed 1993 debut Exile to Guyville by pairing it with the entirety of those legendary 1991 tapes, which contain a whole host of embryonic takes of classics like “Fuck and Run,” non-album tracks, and even a radically different and early take of future hit “Whip Smart.”
Nine Inch Nails – Bad Witch
Trent Reznor will never relinquish the throne as king of all things industrial (rock), but on this release, he sounds (vocally) a bit like one of his heroes, the late great David Bowie, while musically retaining the firepower and creativity that NIN records demand.
MGMT – Little Dark Age
I can’t believe this band has been around for over a decade now. Still churning out catchy-as-hell indie pop, this new LP has echoes of classic rock too, including Pink Floyd at times; and last song “Hand It Over” has vocals that sound like Brian Wilson.
Big Brother and the Holding Company – Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills
To celebrate the 50th anniversary edition of the legendary Cheap Thrills album, Columbia/Legacy Recordings released this new compilation of 30 songs (25 unreleased), complete with the original title the band wanted for the album that became an instant classic. These outtakes are a true gift to Janis Joplin fans, and you will get goosebumps listening to her on these outtakes – as raw and passionate as ever.
The Beatles – White Album 50th Anniversary 6-CD Set
Highlight: We FINALLY get to hear all 27 “Esher Demos,” the legendary set of songs the Fab Four recorded at George Harrison’s place in the spring of 1968. And, Giles Martin does a fantastic job remastering the legendary album proper – songs like “Helter Skelter” have a heavier, more roaring guitar and punchier bassline. His father (George) would be proud.
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen – Merrie Land
This British supergroup featuring Damon Albarn of Blur, Simon Tong of The Verve, legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, and beloved bassist of The Clash have given the world their first LP in over 10 yrs. The subject matter – Brexit – is no fun, but thank goodness the music is.
Unreqvited – Mosaic I: L’Amour Et L’Ardeur
This is an impressive one-man DSBM project from Ottawa.
Failure – In the Future Your Body Will Be the Furthest Thing from Your Mind
One of the more underrated ’90s alternative rock bands is now one of the more underrated reunited bands of this decade, even though they influenced Tool and two band members joined A Perfect Circle for their 2018 tour (filling in for James Iha). These guys have their own sound. Still. It’s a record of depth, one that has you keep discovering new layers in the more you listen to it.
Joe Strummer – 001 (Deluxe Edition)
From Strummer’s early days with pre-Clash band 101ers to his Mescaleros songs, you get enough of his career to make this retrospective worthy of release.
Tom Petty – An American Treasure
There isn’t much by Tom Petty I hadn’t heard – until this box set came out. “Keep a Little Soul,” “Gainesville,” and other rarities or alternate takes, including one of “Surrender” from 1976 (a song that should’ve been a worldwide hit but was left off their debut LP), make this box set a requirement for all Petty completists.
Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions
Anyone who says Greta Van Fleet brought back rock and roll, especially ’70s rock, hasn’t been paying attention to Clutch. These guys never disappoint – live or on record. It would be a “bad decision” to ignore this rockin’ release.
Fleet Foxes – First Collection 2006-2009
This is the reissue of FF’s 2008 debut, plus the Sun Giant and S-T EPs and a b-sides/rarities disc, with 32-page booklet of lyrics, artwork, and show flyers.
Still Corners – Slow Air
One of the cool things YouTube is still useful for is its auto-queuing of bands/artists right after the ones you watched are done playing. And so one day after watching a Snail Mail video or two last year, Still Corners came on. And I was immediately hooked on this album.
Snail Mail – Lush
Snail Mail, a.k.a. Lindsey Jordan, has had comparisons to other ladies of rock and pop, namely Liz Phair and Fiona Apple. But she’s paving her own way now with this fine debut, a mellow indie rock release.
Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop
Call it grunge-esque, postpunk with shoegaze flavors, or a whatever you want, this is a welcomed sound to those who love/grew up on the likes of ’90s indie greats like Slowdive, Ride, and Hum, with a bit of The Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, and Dinosaur Jr. for good measure.
High on Fire – Electric Messiah (The successor to Lemmy indeed) and Sleep – The Sciences? (Stereogum says the latter surprise comeback album rules)
Hatchie – Sugar & Spice EP
I got a hold of this Spanish artist’s EP from a Bandcamp “Best of Spring 2018” list and am glad I did.
Joe Bonamassa – Redemption
Blues of Desperation, JB’s 2016 album, was his best studio album to date, IMHO. Though this new one falls short on a track-by-track level, it’s still one of the best blues albums of 2018, no question. (Note: His other 2018 studio album, another collaboration with Beth Hart, Black Coffee, ain’t half bad either.)
Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog
Jerry Cantrell is a genius. To still have that trademark AIC sound after nearly 30 years and still have it sound fresh is truly incredible. Even the upcoming Grammys think so too.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
You don’t get Kim and Kelley Deal of ’90s alt-rock heroes The Breeders on your album if you don’t deliver the goods. Barnett does that and then some, though at a comparatively less energetic level than prior releases. Still, this album, and the appearance of the Deal sisters is a statement in and of itself – that female-fronted guitar rock is alive and well.
Beach House – 7
These synthpop vets have mastered the art of consistency. Don’t change a thing.
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
I’d been familiar with Musgraves through years of TV appearances, but it was her majestic performance of “Slow Burn” on Saturday Night Live last spring that won me over for good. Golden Hour is a flawless masterpiece that mashes up modern country, folk, and pop music, with hit “High Horse” leading the way. She’s not even 30, so it may not be cliche to say that her best is still yet to come.
Jimi Hendrix – Both Sides of the Sky
I would argue that you get your money’s worth more from this release than the much-hyped and overpriced 50th anniversary reissue of Electric Ladyland.
R.E.M. – Live at the BBC
There’s not much that will surprise you here, except for perhaps their cover of British band Editors. But at over 100 tracks, it’s an overall exceptionally comprehensive set, from 1984 to 2008, that R.E.M. fans will truly salivate over.
Neko Case – Hell-On
Neko never disappoints.
Post Malone – Beerbongs and Bentleys
This past year has been the best yet for Austin Post – he’s set records for album streaming, won awards (including a VMA for “Rockstar”), and could win his first Grammy next month. And in large part, he has a truly talented team to thank, including musicians/producers Andrew Watt, Frank Dukes, and Lou Bell (Halsey, Camila Cabello, Five Seconds of Summer), who is now one of the top hip-hop and pop producers in America over the last year. All of his fellow extended Boston/Quincy, MA friends (myself included) have been saying “Congratulations” to Lou all year long over social media as the accomplishments keep piling up. It’s been an incredible run for all. 2019 looks even brighter.
A Perfect Circle – Eat the Elephant
It might be more melodic than heavy at times. Apparently that’s a detriment for some. It’s a solid record through and through, coming from a band that rarely records them these days. As with Iha’s original band Smashing Pumpkins and their new music, I just wish some fans/critics weren’t so stuck in the past and could just appreciate a band’s music for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1: No Past. No Future. No Sun
Speaking of Iha, with him back in the fold, my all-time favorite band has reunited with 3/4s of the original lineup, and the results on this brief, eight-song effort produced by Rick Rubin are mostly amazing. “Knights of Malta” is a soft, catchy opener complete with a (surprising) gospel backup singing section. Then comes the first of at least three instant SP classics on here, “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts).” Billy Corgan has said the title is an homage to The Cure (likely “Charlotte Sometimes”), but the song itself has a beat reminiscent of “1979.”
Later in the LP is the metallic rocker “Marchin’ On,” which sports some phenomenal Neal Peart-esque fills by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, and midtempo gem “With Sympathy,” the first Pumpkins song ever co-written by Chamberlin (with Billy Corgan). The other four are worthy album tracks, though “Alienation” may be the least impactful of the bunch. In the year 2018, you couldn’t honestly ask for much more. And if you really expected more in the vein of Siamese Dream/MCIS, see my last sentence regarding the A Perfect Circle album.
Betty Davis – Nasty Gal reissue
Pitchfork says this 1976 release was ahead of its time, lyrically – for a black woman singing about sex and desire. This is also the woman who got then-husband Miles Davis on the phone with Jimi Hendrix. She had Neal Schon as one of her guitar players on her 1973 self-titled debut. I highly recommend you check that debut out and then this one.
Judas Priest – Firepower
The “Metal God” Rob Halford and cohorts bring fire and fury to what is rightly being called the Priest’s best record in decades.
Line of Sight – Dissent
This is the debut EP from the D.C. hardcore straight-edge band.
Morrison Kincannon – Beneath the Redwoods (Forgotten Californian folk duo’s release of once lost 1970s/1980s recordings)
Minus the Bear – Fair Enough EP (Minus the Bear, one of my favorite bands to see live over the last 15 years, called it a career late last year. Of course they are going out on top with one final EP.)
Superchunk – What a Time to Be Alive
Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
Mogwai – Kin (soundtrack album)
J Mascis – Elastic Days
Charles Bradley – Black Velvet (This is the first posthumous collection from the late soul/R&B throwback.)
Corrosion of Conformity – No Cross No Crown (Even though C.O.C. isn’t doing much of anything new on this comeback record with Pepper Keenan, rock and metal has been missing this band badly over the last decade or so. Black Sabbath is no more, but their spirit lives on in bands like C.O.C.)