2018 Music Reviews
Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals, Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue (2018) C-
Pissed-off grumbling and mumbling - yes, the evil side of the Cookie Monster shows up - but it also seems like the ten songs are nearly identical, which is certainly a problem. I bet Phil's missing Dimebag ... I mean, aren't we all?
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018) D+
Turner's gone so far off the ledge artistically he's now fashioned himself into a lounge singer, with his supporting Monkeys catering to his 'crooning' and worst impulses. I suppose you can read it as being tongue-in-cheek, but the wit's bone dry.
Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018) C+
Ms. Barnett's back with the same blues-rock-embraces-self-loathing ... although it's a heck of a lot more woe than vivacity. On her debut LP there was more cohesion (and better singles) - not finding the same cleverness on this (but that drowsy delivery has a charm of its own).
Beach House, 7 (2018) B
The bookends ("Dark Spring" and "Last Ride") are classic Legrand-Scally, but the middle section drags a bit, like they took some unused material and decided to play it in super slow motion (instead of 'plain old' slow-mo). Even slightly 'off' BH (the production could have been crisper) is better than most other indie acts, so cherish the pieces of this that most resonate with you (it's all that matters, this time of year).
Beyonce and Jay-Z, Everything Is Love (2018) C-
It's strange: the strengths of both get negated when they try to do this 'couple album,' which is a little corny and feels tossed out: most married couples can't stand to be in the same room with each other for longer than a few hours (nonetheless make an LP). It's a marketing thing, really - allegedly Jay-Z "cheated" on Ms. Knowles a year or so ago and now instead of doing therapy they're making music together. Knowing how PR teams work the Becky-With-the-Good-Hair narrative was probably fabricated - when you become this level of wealthy you need subject matter to push to the public. Not buying it ... nor would I be willing to compare Shawn Carter to Malcolm X.
Brockhampton, Iridescence (2018) C
While I fully understand they're a collective consisting of over twelve members - and you have to hand it to them, they somehow work together - four albums released in less than two is excessive, and it was inevitable they'd run out of creative juice. There are a few good songs on it ("District"), but the exuberance of "Saturation III" is largely absent, like they're trying to be more pensive ... or something like that. Really digging the personalized Kevlar vests, though....
David Byrne, American Utopia (2018) F
I can't speak highly enough of what Byrne and the rest of the Talking Heads brought to arthouse music, but Byrne's solo work, including this album about 'positivity' is grating to listen to: his voice was never the best and sometimes tough to take, but now it's warbly and annoying.
Jenn Champion, Single Rider (2018) B+
She dropped the old stage surname, "Ghetto," for cultural reasons (although no one thought it wasn't offensive - she's not that kind of lady), and came out with this little pop wonder: she's pulled off that tricky stunt of retaining her own style while keeping it accessible for the average listener. She could make a killing as a ghost writer ... just letting that out there.
CHVRCHES, Love Is Dead (2018) D-
Lauren is such a terrible songwriter she makes Swift seem like Sappho ... and why is it the best song on here is not even sung by her ("God's Plan")? Furthermore, reports of love's demise have been greatly overexaggerated.
J. Cole, KOD (2018) C-
There isn't much to differentiate track from track - too much 'sameness' - and compounding the problem is Mr. Cole's propensity to preach and lecture, standing so high up on his pedestal he can barely see his constituents below him, losing interest slowly. Most good pastors have a sense of self-awareness: this is dry egotism.
Lucy Dacus, Historian (2018) B
She may only be in her early twenties, but there's an assuredness to Dacus' tone that I really grabbed on to - she's also not afraid to turn on the amps when she wants to make a point. Lead single "Night Shift" is a soaring opener; "Timefighter" is a juiced-up bar ballad.
Dead Vibrations, Dead Vibrations (2018) B-
Not bad for a less-than-chaotic Jesus & Mary Chain imitation, the hooks are solid and they know when to pack up their gear and hit the Svedka.
Death Grips, Year of the Snitch (2018) C-
Sloppy, muddled LP from the Grips Trio - the intensity is there, but that's all it is: anger combined with power electronics. Also missing: that whip-smart malevolent sense of humor.
Drake, Scorpion (2018) D+
Mr. 6 hardly has enough material to fill one album, so two is a step far, far beyond his given abilities. He talks about the same things in a loop: how he's blessed, how he has haters (they wish bad things on him), how he can't find true love (screw you, Kiki). Is the title a reference to the jacket Ryan Gosling wore for "Drive?" Does he see himself as a scorpion, armored but dangerous? Does he realize he has a cork attached to the tip on his stinger? It's that Canadian (Passive-Aggressive) Politeness....
Eminem, Kamikaze (2018) C
Shady was once considered the best living rapper, but times change and I'm not sure that holds true anymore - what he's already done has solidified his mark on the genre forever, but his tendency to try to rhyme every other word (forsaking coherence) makes him easy to mock like Chris D'Elia did on Instagram. Is he still clever? Maybe. But he's such royalty that even when he disses someone - and he takes shots at a lot of people - most of his targets take it as a compliment. Mission ... not accomplished?
Father John Misty, God's Favorite Customer (2018) B
Might not be his most 'catchy' record, but the snippiness never left his world-weary heart ... and he still refers to himself in the third person which suggests it could be 'performance art.' No matter: having seen him live last year in my hometown (!), I can confirm that these somber/snide ballads play well in person (and in the open air), and that Mr. Tillman really, really likes Game of Thrones. And microdosing LSD. Whatever puts the visions in your head ... or gets you up in the morning.
Florence and the Machine, High as Hope (2018) C
Nice pipes on Ms. Welch, although like Adele she thinks her voice can overpower some structurally mundane songs. Flo's the kind of artist where if she came on some random radio station you would most likely not turn it off, but for an entire album ... nah, not today.
Franz Ferdinand, Always Ascending (2018) B+
I admit to having signed off on Mr. Kapranos & Company for not having made a decent album in thirteen years (!?), so this took me by surprise: it's as cleverly structured as their debut and the title number that opens it is bouncy and stirring while bits like "The Academy Award" and "Lois Lane" remind listeners of Alex's burning, sarcastic side.
The Fratellis, In Your Own Sweet Time (2018) C
They sure as hell know how to end the record - "I Am That" is a seven minute wonder - but otherwise they're a softer and less memorable Scottish version of Collective Soul. They're a smidge lyrically-challenged (on "The Next Time We Wed": "Make my night, hold tight / thrill me til my teeth go white"), and I'll never forgive them for making "Chelsea Dagger," one of the most obnoxious sports anthems of all time (full confession: I'm a Flyers fan).
Gorillaz, The Now Now (2018) D+
This is the most subdued I've heard Albarn and his cohorts sound in quite a bit (if ever): the end result lacks distinction, as Damon is trying for that psychedelic/"spacey" sound. In its lone strong moment, Snoop shows up for "Hollywood" to remind the bitch-asses who still runs the game (he never runs out of sunshine in a bag).
Jon Hopkins, Singularity (2018) B
One of the absolute artists working in electronica: a lot of jokes have been thrown around about "intelligent dance music," but this fellow is smart enough to warrant the label - there's a brain behind the beats and shifts and oscillations. Don't get me wrong: you probably could dance to the non-piano pieces, but I think letting it wash over your whole being is the way to experience it.
Iceage, Beyondless (2018) A-
I was mixed on their first few albums, suspecting Mr. Ronnenfelt and the boys had raw skill and dark energy and little more ... but couldn't imagine they'd pull off this absolutely splendid, multi-faceted gem, which is polished and textured and thoughtfully written (Elias tends to embellish, but his ash-and-booze-stained swagger allows for it). "Pain Killer" (with Sky!) might be the single everyone talks about, but "Take It All," with its ethereal sheen and feeling of agonized surrender, is far and away one of the best songs of the year.
Interpol, Marauder (2018) C
It must be tough for Banks and the guys: their debut LP is regarded by many who know what they're talking about as one of the best records of the 21st century, so now, some 15+ years later, they're still "keeping the band going," but the fire and gloominess from the beginning are muted a great deal ("Stay in Touch" is an insidious exception). Now they're just technique and Banks' oddball lyrics, which is fine, but it's a passing wind of a record, with minor resonance.
Chelsea Jade, Personal Best (2018) C+
Friend-of-Lorde Ms. Metcalf breathily whispers out eleven chirpy pop numbers: she's no revolutionary in the field, but she's upbeat and radio-friendly. You could listen to worse.
Mark Kozelek, Mark Kozelek (2018) D
There's a talent to telling a good story, and while Kozelek gets some details down nicely, it's largely diary-ramblings (many tales are about meeting adoring fans ... or him eating, using lawn equipment and making baby sounds). Life Hack: if anyone ever calls you "narcissistic" redirect your accuser to this guy's discography. Wait for the apology.
Low, Double Negative (2018) D+
They have their trademark mellow moments, but then it's like someone's elbow accidentally slams into the console and turns everything into static-y mush ... not a good choice. Actually, for them, the less they try to "dress up" their songs, the more tolerable they are.
Makthaverskan, III (2018) B
Based on their band photos, they look like the kids you went to high school with that would puff on cigs when they were supposed to be in gym class and give each other unsterilized stick-and-poke tattoos, but their music, while a tad spooky, does suggest a kind of optimism-amidst-the-ruins. I'm down with that. Now all I need to do is figure out how to pronounce their band name.
John Maus, Addendum (2018) D-
Question: What does a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Hawaii get you? Answer: Lines like "Take the baby to the dump!" and "Nineteen! Eighty-Seven!"
MGMT, Little Dark Age (2018) C+
After their self-titled release, which I found underwhelming, they retreated back to the spirit of their debut, which came out eleven years ago ... and they have since come to the realization they want to be New Order ("Me and Michael"). It's a little corny (was "She Works Out Too Much" made for a Dreamcast game?) and when they try to show disdain ("When You Die") it's just juvenile.
Migos, Culture II (2018) D
This sequel to last year's debut is (unfortunately) more of the same - hating the police, degrading women, loving drugs and murder and diamonds and Michael Winslow-style sound-effects (blurt! zip! snurt!). These hacks, in their total delusion, think have enough material for a 100+ minute record when they barely have enough content for a blog post, even with so many guest stars (it's quite startling when Cardi B's potty-mouth shows up).
Mac Miller, Swimming (2018) B
Mr. McCormick should have paid more attention to what he wrote for "Self Care" because he was arrested for a DUI in August 2018 following a car crash (come on, Ariana's not worth being upset over) and passed away just a month later from an apparent overdose - that ugly bit of reality aside, this is a solid final album: he was more genuinely self-relective than many of his peers, and he's careful in selecting his collaborators (Dev Hynes and FlyLo help out) ... although sometimes his delivery is irritating (like he's six whiskeys in and trying to philosophize). The horn section that crops up here and there shows he might have been more than a little influenced by Curtis Mayfield.
Mirah, Understanding (2018) C
The best moment on here, the synth-driven (and catchy) "Hot Hot," is its lone standout song; the rest are okay and everything, but copying and pasting beats and chords should be frowned upon. There should also be a distinction made between "lo-fi" and "even NPR listeners find it bland."
Mitski, Be the Cowboy (2018) B-
She has an enchanting voice and the wisdom to go with it, though the songs, most of them coming in around two minutes, feel more like fragments than fully-developed works (just as "Pink in the Night" starts to get really interesting, she moves on).
Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer (2018) D+
I don't know if she's aware of how dorky the songwriting comes across - those damn technology 'jokes,' the entire five minutes and two seconds of "Screwed," the "patriotism" of "Americans" - or how condescending her delivery is, but she has another career she's good at, so I'm comfortable panning the bejesus out of this.
Oneohtrix Point Never, Age Of (2018) D
Now, on top of the glitches and sound clips and random bursts of noise that have no flow, Dan's decided to include some (auto-tuned) vocalists ... yeah, like that makes it better. I'm becoming more and more convinced Lopatin actually can't make a real "song" - hell, even Mr. James knows how to 'tie' the chaos together....
Jim O'Rourke, Sleep Like It's Winter (2018) C-
This type of "noodling-on-the-keyboards-for-three-quarters-of-an-hour" approach might be passable for a recently-graduated art student out of NYU who only performs in windowless rooms filled with radon and mold, but this is Jim-O'-Fucking-Rourke we're dealing with here. He's already established how he can transcend mediocrity in ambient music: rough drafts require tweaking.
Panda Bear, A Day With the Homies [EP] (2007) D
Little mini-release from Mr. Bear reaffirms what I always thought: this goofy ass wants to be Brian Wilson.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake! (2018) B-
I'm not sure what my deal is with these blokes - every time they come out with a new record, my initial reaction is "ehhh" ... but after repeat listens it just grows on me. Are they so good they make it seem effortless? Is there a complexity to them they can disguise with pop-punk? Or is it just good ol' fun that takes me no less than three listens to "grasp?" Depth or no depth, they're having a hell of a time ("If it stops I'm- / If it stops I'm- / If it stops I'm having an unshakeable nightmare").
Post Malone, Beerbongs & Bentleys (2018) D
Mr. Post came up pretty fast because of "White Iverson" and a lot of social media memes (credit the PR team), but the truth is his content is less complicated than Willow Smith and about 1/4 as entertaining. His contributors half-ass it, he's hardly engaged ... but he did take part in Seth Rogan's "Hilarity for Charity" so maybe he has a conscience?
Sleep, The Sciences (2018) B-
Like the Avalanches, these infamous stoners finally got out of their decade-plus kush coma to work through another windy epic about "marry wanna." The pacing is so steady the impatient might want to fast-forward through it, but I think it makes it a rather hypnotic endeavor.
Sloan, 12 (2018) D
Cookie-cutter "indie rock" from an outfit that's been around since I was in grade school. You mean in twenty-five plus years they never though to, I dunno, change it up a little? Might play out better for those who like their music safe and uneventful and gratingly good-natured ("Essential Services" should have been run through a shredder).
Tune-Yards, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (2018) C
Merrill's first three releases were intriguing because she was casual-and-smart with the experimentation, but this feels almost routine for her, at least musically speaking. She spends too much time getting into what it's like to be a Caucasian in a mixed-race planet ... and I'm not sure what she's aiming for, and I doubt she knows either. "Look At Your Hands" and "Free" are maddening.
Kanye West, Ye (2018) B-
At this point I'm not sure if Kanye's "mental breakdowns" are genuine or 'concocted' because he wants to be viewed as some kind of tortured genius. Let's be clear: he's most likely not an intellectual supernova. He's gifted, but time decides your greatness. On a lighter note, good to hear Kid Kudi on this (uncredited, naturally).
Young Fathers, Cocoa Sugar (2018) B+
Not quite as 'transcendent' as individual moments on the previous two albums, but their flair for the experimental is still present without being obtrusive, and there's a spiritual element to the work that gives it a feeling of warmth (even when they're being snarky, there's a subtle plea for affection and pity): it's also their most well-rounded product to date. They're stretching for the heavens ... but there's that gravity problem.
Zs, Noth (2018) D+
Two-part experimental rock record that doesn't add much to the genre in terms of new technique (John Zorn does the same sort of thing ... except a lot better): section one is scattered horns and the random guitar jangle; section two is more of the same (cymbal crash!) except with spitting/hissing noises.
Singles of the Year: Arctic Monkeys: "Star Treatment," Beach House: "Dark Spring," Jenn Champion: "Coming for You," Dead Vibrations: "On a Sunday Morning," Drake: "Summer Games," Father John Misty: "We're Only People (And There's Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)," Franz Ferdinand: "The Academy Award," The Fratellis: "I Am That," Jon Hopkins: "Neon Pattern Drum," Iceage: "Take It All," Interpol: "Stay in Touch," Makthaverskan: "Eden," MGMT: "James," Mirah: "Hot Hot," Young Fathers: "Tremolo"