Everything Else, 2018 Edition

My top songs, everything I listened to, and all of the other moments that made 2018 the year that was!

My Top Songs:

Everything I Listened To:

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out. This will have additions through December 31.

Favorite Non-2018 Discovery:

Grateful Dead. Duh.

Other Stuff:

Personal: Getting engaged to Ali! Finally getting the opportunity go overseas! Moving into a house. Walking across Abbey Road with Camie and Cory. Getting to see a show at Preservation Hall in New Orleans! Meeting musicians I admire all year long.

Travel: FINALLY WENT OVERSEAS! London and Paris. Amazing. I flew fifteen times this year. Places I visited: Austin, London, Paris, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Asbury Park, Atlanta (first time!) Toronto, Minneapolis, New Orleans for the first time (so good!), Brooklyn, and the requisite Milwaukee trips.

Concerts: I attended 46 concerts so far in 2018. Maybe a few more? Here’s the list.

Health and Wellness: Arthroscopic knee surgery, bronchitis, sinus infections. Still did the Race to Wrigley 5K on a bad knee. This was not a banner year health-wise. More massages, acupuncture, still all good things.

The Hold Steady: SHOW 100! October 13, 2018. To get there, I did 20 THS shows in one year, including my first ever shows overseas. It’s the the most-ever in one year for me, eclipsing my 2009 record of 18. Ended the year at an all-time total of 106. I went to everything outside of the three San Francisco shows. Really great experiences, Massive Nights III may be the best four run stretch I’d ever seen. Best band, best people. New singles were great and everyone seems to be enjoying the live bootleg series.

Wrestling: Witnessing the biggest independent show ever with ALL IN. Went to Starrcast, met a bunch of great wrestlers. Pretty much any NXT PPV was good, including the North American title latter match WrestleMania weekend. Attending NXT Takeover: Chicago with Ali was great. Getting to witness Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet live. Daniel Bryan winning the title back. Hard to pay attention to so much of it but the indie stuff captured my imagination this year.

Food:

Atlanta: Octopus Bar Varsity, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Jang Su Jang

Chicago area: Gideon Sweet (RIP), Craft Donuts + Coffee, Duck Duck Goat, Girl and the Goat, Kitakata Ramen Ban Na, Mockingbird

London: Dishoom, Beigel Bake, Harrod’s, Dark Sugars, all the pop ups at Camden Lock.

Paris: Les Philosophes and the cool crepe place at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

Philadelphia: Pat’s Steaks – had all of the ‘big 3’ after this one – Jim’s is the best. Reading Terminal Market.

Toronto: Egg Bae, Bar Raval, Baker Bots

New Orleans: Commander’s Palace, Cafe du Monde, Mother’s, NOLA, Port of Call, Tableau, Parkway Bakery and Tavern, District

New York: Lilia, Frankel’s Delicatessen, Peter Luger’s Steak House

More Music:

Big Sky Hunters released an album this year called Distance and it is very good and I feel lucky I got to be there when they recorded most of it.

Telethon’s Modern Abrasive is excellent and you need to hear this, as well as last year’s The Grand Spontanaean.

Favorite Albums of 2018

As usual, extremely hard to make a list of my favorites this year. There are plenty of great records from 2018 to check out beyond these ten! Spotify playlist of the top ten at the bottom of this article.

1. Foxing Nearer My God

I’m still overwhelmed by Nearer My God after all of these months. It’s an album title that smacks with the air of supreme confidence and ambition, one that too many bands fail to live up to. Foxing somehow does. It’s one of those super-rare occasions where a band somehow hits their stride as artists and hits a creative peak. Songs like the opener “Grand Paradise” with its blippy churn and the horn swells of the single “Slapstick” really are just setting up for sonics that are weirder and more ambitious. “Lich Prince” sort of feels like a woozy 2011 Drake ballad before it opens up to a gasping, monolithic rock song. Have the lyrics “I feel like a houseplant” ever been used before? Have they ever given way to a cataclysmic world-burning guitar solo? Has that ever segued into falsetto harmonizations all in the course of a minute? Of course not. That’s what makes it so awesome.

The album’s title track is a soaring, chugging power ballad, perhaps the most traditional thing on the record. “Heartbeats” doesn’t sound like a rock band at all – soundscapes tempered with program drum hits and orchestral samples that sound super familiar but transformed into something that feels entirely fresh. Nearer My God packs so much detail per song it’s impossible to quantify the breadth of what an accomplishment it is. It’s brazen, daring and still somehow so organic. It somehow feels we’ll be talking about it further down the line than we do now.

2. Lucy Dacus – Historian

I first heard about Lucy Dacus the way a lot of people hear about new bands: from the playlist of the 2016 VP-nominee, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Seriously. He included her song “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” on a streaming playlist. Turns out his daughter is friends with Dacus. Obligatory next-door neighborly plug it wasn’t: Dacus’s 2016 debut No Burden is seriously great. Historian is even better.

The Richmond based singer-songwriter builds on the confidence and songcraft of her debut by re-teaming with producer Collin Pastore, which was then mixed with John Congleton, who is known for his work with St. Vincent, among others. The result is a record that feels weightier and enveloping in sound opposed to the lo-fi sounds of No Burden. Dacus is 23, but the rich tone of her voice begets a singer whose doing it much longer. From the chugging opener “Night Shift,” a classic breakup song – “You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it/In five years I hope the songs feel like covers/Dedicated to new lovers” the sweeping, gorgeous “Body to Flame” and pop bite of “Next of Kin” – “I am at peace with my death/I can go back to bed”. It’s a career defining collection that’s worthier than the words written here, or like she says on “Addictions” – “invest your time in what’s worthwhile”.

3. Low – Double Negative

How preposterous is it a group like Low, in their 25th year, makes the best album of their career? Double Negative sounds like a Low record, in the sense you hear the vocals of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Rogers, but everything else sounds…different. At times Double Negative feels like a hymn. Other times it sounds like the instrumentation is disintegrating between your ears. Then it just sounds like the death of sound. It’s a masterwork that deserves and should be digested at once. Occasionally while, there are special albums sound like they’re living organisms. None have ever sounded like they’re coming to terms with the end of their existence. Until now.

4. Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams

For a group already known for their ambitious 2011 rock opera David Comes to Life, the thought they would top it with another double album seems patently insane, but they actually *did it*. It’s an overwhelming assortment of punk, psych, digital hardcore with elements of arena rock and other genre experiences. That said, it represents everything great about them to this point and pushing them in completely new directions for the future. It’s an album elevating a ‘great band’ to an ‘all-time great band’. Vocalist Damian Abraham has taken a less active presence in the group, being deployed a little more carefully across 13 of the album’s 18 songs – and it works beautifully.

Whether it’s the catchy-as hell glam rock stomp of “Normal People,” the disco-psych of the title track, and the gutbucket hardcore of “Living in a Simulation,” the throbbing snyth pummel of “Mechanical Bull” or guitarist Ben Cook’s shredded lead vocal on “Accelerate”, there’s a staggering amount to get into.

Dose Your Dreams is the sound of six people with disparate influences pushing outside what it means to *be* a band. No longer confined to traditional roles – there’s no longer one singer, one guitarist, one drummer, so on and so forth – they have made a record that’s messy, fearless and totally original, so much so that it needs to be heard to be totally understood. If it’s the last record the group makes then holy shit, they went for broke and nailed it.

5. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

John Prine’s first album of new material in 13 years is a great place to start with the legend’s career, as it kind of covers the ground of the sometimes funny, sometimes terribly sad songs he’s known for. Working with Dave Cobb (known for producing both Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton) Prine focuses on the mundanities of everyday life, and some of those songs like the humorous “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” and the tender “I Have Met My Love Today” is a gorgeous little love song that comes and goes in under two minutes. “Summer’s End” is probably one of the most beautiful, weightless ballads I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a record that’s a small gift, one that you’re welcome to have but did not at all expect. That’s the best kind.

6. Restorations – LP5000

On Restorations first album in four years, the group delivers an emotional wallop over seven songs in a 25-minute span. It’s a look into being in your thirties – appreciating all the things that the age brings – love, stability and the prospect of a bright future still ahead, but sometimes just falling short.

“The Red Door,” LP5000’s best song, addresses the process of gentrification. “Feel my pulse pick up with/every building that’s built/haven’t we all felt a little/a little in between before?”, Loudon says. Sure, he could be talking about the band’s hometown of Philadelphia, but it also doubles of the transitional point of your life of moving from one constant to something totally unfamiliar, with one of your favorite places being wiped away without a trace in favor of something hollow and empty, or worse, replaced with nothing at all.

It is a complicated record that has remarkable highs and lows in such a short amount of time. Restorations have always been a band that crushes with dynamic sonic shifts paired with bone-cutting truths. They’re a band trying to live the best they can and admitting it’s fucking hard. We’re people less about where we’re from and more about how we relate to each other through our experiences. In the unbearable nowness of now, it’s the best we can do. It’s good that records like LP5000 exist to remind us of that.

7. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Let’s get it out of the way: Believe the hype. All of Kacey Musgraves’s records are the real deal – slices of contemporary country that don’t sound like shit and hint at something greater and more progressive. Hint no more. Golden Hour is Musgraves best and most fully realized record, one that transcends country, or any genre really, with the focus on crystalline songwriting, and gorgeous arrangements. It’s the career-defining achievement of an artist who still might have not peaked yet. That’s inspiring. Just don’t waste any more time not listening to it.

8. Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar

It’s hard to classify exactly what genre the Edinburgh, Scotland-based group are, because they encompass so many different ones at once. It’s a little hip-hop, it’s a little indie rock, and then there’s some weird touches of R&B. They won the Mercury Prize in 2014 for their debut album Dead and were featured prominently on last year’s Trainspotting 2 soundtrack. Their latest, Cocoa Sugar is a breathtaking, densely layered collection melding Gospel choirs, skitter-stop raps and Radiohead-inspired sound beds.

I keep coming back to it time and time again because I’m always hearing something a little different each time. There’s not really any sort of comparison I can make for it from anywhere. Listen to “In My View” for some burnout balladry, the buzzing aria of “Lord” or the narcotic daze of “Wow”. It all changes from song to song and it couldn’t come from anywhere else. Like all great records, it rewards with multiple listens. It’s an excellent record which positions them on the cusp of greatness. They’re building a hell of a case for it.

9. Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

This is not a knock on Janelle Monae’s past records, but Dirty Computer blows them out of the water. While she’s always been ahead of the vanguard with her high concept records, sound and style, she’s never sounded as loose and comfortable within her own sound than she does here. Melding R&B, hip hop and pop, she’s doing it in a way few have attempted. There are Brian Wilson and Pharrell guest spots. Stevie Wonder shows up. The guitar heavy “So Afraid” will stop you in your tracks. Plus, those synths sound positively freaky, none more than “Make Me Feel”, which may or may not have had some assistance from the dearly departed Purple One.

10. Jeff Rosenstock – POST-

Jeff Rosenstock seems to be advancing as an artist at hyper-speed, creating higher concept, epics-in-minutes style punk. 2016’s Worry was a landmark record in terms of Rosenstock’s ability to stitch together his euphoric, nervy style. POST-, however, feels like the other side of the coin. Surprise-released on New Year’s Day, Rosenstock has made a record that’s emblematic of the year that followed. Frantic, pissed and often ebullient, he’s doing his best work of his career now, and this record feels like another effortless classic.

11. Culture Abuse – Bay Dream
12. Boygenius – Boygenius EP
13. Hop Along – Bark Off Your Head, Dog
14. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
15. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
16. Joyce Manor – Million Dollars to Kill Me
17. Lucero – Among the Ghosts
18. Superchunk – What A Time to Be Alive
19. Wild Pink – Yolk in the Fur
20. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

Drug Church’s Cheer is an Excellent Punk-Pop Evolution

What does it mean to be a punk band in 2018? It’s hard to say, really. Ten, fifteen years ago if a band with the reputation of Drug Church made a record so explicitly poppy and clean sounding, it was nearly a guaranteed ticket to losing any kind of credibility they’d earned on their way up. However, making this sort of leap is to be expected now, because rock economics simply don’t add up. That’s not to say this is why Drug Church have made this stylistic choice, instead that it just doesn’t mean as much as used to. Regardless, on Cheer, Drug Church take what made them great on albums like Paul Walker and Hit Your Head and really hone in on them. The result is an album that’s no less hard hitting and way more immediate sounding.

“Grubby” is a tectonic rager of an opener, with vocalist Patrick Kindlon sounding higher above the mix than he’s ever sounded. “Avoidarama” starts with a killer bass riff that settles into a classic verse-CHORUS-verse hook. It’s an unavoidably great song. “Weed Pin” is buoyed by an amazing watery guitar riff with Kindlon espousing about frustrating career prospects. Plus, it’ll stop you dead in your tracks when he sings: “Fuck you at $12.50 an hour/I should have started a chemical fire/I should have burned this fucking place to the ground.” 

Simply, Cheer is a great record from a band who’s growing by leaps and bounds by slightly altering the more hardcore elements of their sound and making them a little more palatable. On “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor,” Kindlon sings “If you live long enough/you’ll do something wrong enough/that you’ll feel shame enough/to say enough’s enough”. That’s 100% relatable. There’s no shame here. Drug Church swung for the fences, and that’s the most punk thing they could do. 

On Nearer My God, Foxing Craft an Instant Classic

I’ve been struggling to write about this album since I first heard it a few months ago, and it’s mostly because I’m overwhelmed by every listen of Nearer My God. It’s an album title that smacks with the air of supreme confidence and ambition, one that too many bands fail to live up to. Foxing are not one of them, I am happy to say. It’s one of those super-rare occasions where a band somehow hits their stride as artists and hits a creative peak.

For their third record, Foxing paired with former Death Cab for Cutie member/producer Chris Walla. It’s abundantly clear that his steady hand has guided the group in a way they haven’t even bothered to attempt on record before.  Songs like the opener “Grand Paradise” with its blippy churn and the horn swells of the single “Slapstick” really are just setting up for sonics that are weirder and more ambitious. “Lich Prince” sort of feels like a woozy 2011 Drake ballad before it opens up to a gasping, monolithic rock song. Have the lyrics “I feel like a houseplant” ever been used before? Have they ever given way to a cataclysmic world-burning guitar solo? Has that ever seagued into falsetto harmonizations all in the course of a minute? Of course not. That’s what makes it so awesome.

The album’s title track “Nearer My God” has already made waves as the band released it in five different languages total – Spanish, French, German and Japanese. It’s a soaring, chugging power ballad, perhaps the most traditional thing on the record. Once you hear it, you can almost understand the universality of that melody and how it would translate into other languages. “Heartbeats” doesn’t sound like a rock band at all – soundscapes tempered with program drum hits and orchestral samples that sound super familiar but transformed into something that feels entirely fresh. Also, go listen to all nine minutes of “Nine Cups” and try to figure out what it is. I have a feeling it’s going to take a lot longer than I’ve already spent with it.

Nearer My God packs so much detail per song it’s impossible to quantify the breadth of what an accomplishment it is. Make no mistake Foxing have made an instant classic. It’s a template for going forward and a record we’ll look to as ‘emo’ (or whatever this is) makes the great leap forward. Very rare does an album come along that perfectly captures what it’s like to push the boundaries of an established sound and do it so brazenly and make it sound so organic. What a gift that is. 

On Lessons, The Sharp Shadows Show Off Some New Skills

On Lessons, The Sharp Shadows sophomore album, it’s clear the band has learned something after 2016’s Small Victories. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Boston power-pop trio led by Stephen Bailey has returned with a collection of songs that feel a little more lived in then its predecessor. “Believe In Yourself (But Don’t Take On The World Alone)” feels a little Nick Lowe and a little Ted Leo, while “Don’t Say You’re Sorry to Me” feels straight out of a 50’s sock hop. (That’s a good thing.) The album’s first single, “Push Push Push” is unlike anything Sharp Shadows have done before – a nervy, shifting punk track where Bailey duets with Michelle Hutt of The Royal They. It’s barely over two minutes long and infectiously catchy – Sharp Shadows execute a perfect song in half the time it takes other bands.

With Lessons, it’s abundantly clear that Sharp Shadows have mastered their craft of big guitars and even bigger hooks. Bailey is no question a student of the power pop game – there’s a little Graham Parker, a little Big Star and plenty of confidence here. If there’s something to learn after this album is over is that Sharp Shadows are continuing  to evolving in their quest to create the perfect pop song. They’re pretty darn close as it stands.

On Dose Your Dreams, Fucked Up Return to Their Magnum Opus With an Even Better One

Let me be very clear here: Dose Your Dreams, Fucked Up’s first album in four years, is unquestionably their best record.

For a group already known for their ambitious 2011 rock opera David Comes to Life, the thought they would top it with another double album seems patently insane, but they actually *did it*. It’s an overwhelming assortment of punk, psych, digital hardcore with elements of arena rock and other genre experiences. That said, it represents everything great about them to this point and pushing them in completely new directions for the future. It’s an album elevating a ‘great band’ to an ‘all-time great band’.

There’s an incredible amount of ground to cover here, so I’ll provide some  cliff notes. For an album that’s this ambitious, it’s also a bit of a changing of the guard – band mastermind/guitarist Mike Haliechuk and drummer Jonah Falco are in firm control of the band, pushing Fucked Up in directions they couldn’t have dreamed up. Vocalist Damian Abraham has taken a less active presence in the group as priorities in his life shift, being deployed a little more carefully across 13 of the album’s 18 songs – and it works beautifully.

Whether it’s the catchy-as hell glam rock stomp of “Normal People,” the disco-psych (yes, you read that right) of “Dose Your Dreams” the gutbucket hardcore of “Living in a Simulation,” the throbbing snyth pummel of “Mechanical Bull” or guitarist Ben “Young Guv” Cook’s insta-classic shredded lead vocal on “Accelerate”, there’s a staggering amount to get into. Jonah Falco handles vocals on two songs, including the standout Beach Boys-ian “Love is an Island in the Sea”. Even J Mascis shows up to duet with Jennifer Castle on “Came Down Wrong,” which sounds like a little Dinosaur Jr. tribute in miniature.

Dose Your Dreams is about many things. Sure, it’s about Fucked Up’s most famous character, but it’s also the picture of a band – six people with disparate influences pushing outside what it means to *be* a band. No longer confined to traditional roles – there’s no longer one singer, one guitarist, one drummer, so on and so forth – they have made a record that’s messy, fearless and totally original – so much so that it needs to be heard to be totally understood. If it’s the last record the group makes – which always seems to be a threat – nearly every interview highlights how different each member is from each other, then holy shit, they went for broke and nailed it.

Given their track record in the last fifteen years, it would also not be surprising to see Fucked Up again reinvent themselves as something less recognizable, more fluid, more daring, and more powerful than we could ever possibly imagine. That’s what they’ve done here, because that’s what truly great bands do.

Dose Your Dreams is out Friday on Merge.