I consume so much music but I fail to make an effort to break out of the bubble of bands and genres to make this a true, representative list. At the end of the day, I don’t care—I know what I like and I am passionate about this list of bands and what they put forward in 2018. Here is my top ten from this year.
10. Liz Phair, The Girly-Sound Tapes.
This album is not new, but—with the omission of two songs—lifts the veil of how Liz’s original bedroom cassette recordings were packaged to the world. Also, I needed the reminder that of her raw song-writing prowess, as demonstrated by “Gigolo.” I am crossing my fingers that Liz will put out a new record for my 2019 list.
9. The Breeders, All Nerve.
“Good Morning!” cries Kim and the launch of the first single from the new record. The Breeders join the scads of 90’s bands that have resurfaced. But, with tunes like “Nervous Mary,” “Get in the Car” and “MetaGoth” I don’t care! It’s like the released this album moments after wrapping up their debut Pod.
8. Buffalo Tom, Quiet and Peace.
Another Boston great returns with songs that meet me at where I am today. “All Be Gone” kicks off the record with confidence, becoming a sing-a-long with “who-ohs” before “Overtime” leads you into a quiet nostalgia.
7. Neko Case, Hell-On.
Hell-On reminds me more of Neko’s contributions to the New Pornographers than her previous albums. The melodies move beyond her Americana roots and that’s not a bad thing. The lyric “Sorry stained my mouth gumball blue” punches me in the gut every time.
6. Smoking Popes, Into the Agony.
Another much-anticipated record for years, waiting for some more of the Popes’ driving guitar pop. “Simmer Down” became a live show staple and launches this record while “I Can Hear You” and “Amanda My Love” hit home the fact that the Smoking Popes continue as one of Chicago’s best!
5. Kate Tucker, Practical Sadness.
I discovered this record through the recommendations of some musicians I respect. I have since become familiar with Kate’s previous releases, but there is something about Practical Sadness that keep me returning. The album makes a confident start with “Anybody’s Business” while “It’s True,” “4th of July” and “Dying on the Dancefloor” are fast-favorites. Also, the heart of songs like “Whiskey Mouth” and the bonus track “All I Ever Wanted” sneak up on your heart with a vice-grip. Freda Love’s drums and Kenny Childers’ added vocals and guitar also add to this great release!
4. Kristin Hersh, Possible Dust Clouds.
I am amazed how Kristin can achieve such genius in only 10 tracks. Many of these songs are old friends to Strangels, yet together they present a sonic force. “No Shade in Shadow” and “Gin” stood out immediately but my favorites from Possible Dust Clouds shift like the atmosphere. I am still getting to know this record.
3. Sunshine Boys, Blue Music.
While it’s official release was 2018, I am familiar with every song from Blue Music since I first saw Sunshine Boys play in 2016—the weekend after the Presidential Election. Immediately “John Cage” and “There Goes Another One” stood out as instant favorites, but over the many performances I have grown to love all the songs on this record. Dag, Jackie and Freda deliver a collection of songs reminiscent of early 80’s College Radio that remains relevant today. Buy this record today if you don’t already own it.
2. Juliana Hatfield, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John.
I knew I would like this record. The second track had me in tears. “Suspended in Time” was such an obscure song from Xanadu and hearing Juliana’s version was sentimental, nostalgic and lovely—words that describe the entire record. However, listening to Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John does not leave me wanting to listen to the original songs. I feel content to listen to this collection over and over.
By far, Dove spent most of 2018 in my ear, from the listening party and the NPR pre-release stream to the colored vinyl and live performances. “Mine” re-introduces Belly decades after their second record with strength and swagger. “Girl” emotes a love that transcends, evoking thoughts of my mother singing to me when I was a child. In a time when so many of my favorite bands have returned with new, original songs, Dove proves to be the best of them all.
I provided links to where you can acquire some of the records. I encourage you to support independent artists by purchasing their music as much as possible.