Wow! For the past couple of years, I’ve started my “albums of the year” post lamenting that it had been a “down year”, and that I had trouble even finding 10 albums to put on this list. No so this year – 2018 was an embarrassment of riches!
Part of that is due to the rise of French pop music. For decades, French pop was an easy target of ridicule for English speakers. And for good reason: French acts were often fronted by dudes who looked more like a Little Caesar’s manager than a pop star, wearing a leather Member’s Only jacket, chain-smoking and singing English lyrics phonetically. But bands like Air and Daft Punk changed all that. Thereafter, French music could be as cool as the coolest bands from London or NYC. And it shows in this list.
It was also kind of fun that this year’s top three albums had a fight to the death for the #1 spot. The past couple of years have been fun and all, but there was always a clear front-runner for the top spot.
Below are my ten favorite albums of 2018. The list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.
My Top Albums of 2018
10) CHVRCHES – Love is Dead– How the mighty have fallen… in a way. 2015’s Every Open Eye was my #2 album that year, barely missing the top spot to Purity Ring’s insanely great Another Eternity. So the hype machine was in full gear when “CHV3” was announced in January. But the album came out… and it was “just OK”. All the elements of what makes CHVRCHES great are still there – everything just feels slightly “off”. I saw them live in October, and the set list was heavy on Love is Dead tracks. It was a good show… I just don’t have the connection to this album I had with their first two.
9) Public Memory – Demolition – Robert Toher – performing as Public Memory – is a Brooklyn-based musician who creates music that’s… kind of a beautiful, yet gloomy, mix of early Clan of Xymox atmosphere with the tribal beats Dead Can Dance sometimes played with. The 2016 debut album, Wuthering Drum, was fantastic, if dark. This album follows up on that nicely. OK, so it probably isn’t the kind of thing you’d put on at a party. But it’s a solid – beautiful – effort.
8) NONONO — Undertones – Like a lot of people, I discovered Swedish band NONONO thanks to their 2013 hit “Pumpin’ Blood”. I kept my eye on them as they put out a good single from time to time – enjoyable, but nothing top write home about. Imagine my surprise when Undertones came out earlier this year and it was a solid, all-around album. Don’t get me wrong – it won’t change your life or anything. But it’s absolutely worth checking out on Spotify!
7) Grand Blanc – Image Au Mur – Grand Blanc arrived in my life in a big way earlier this year when I discovered “L’amour fou” from their 2016 album Mémoires Vives. Then, out of nowhere, Image Au Mur showed up! This album may lack a banger like “L’amour fou”, but I think it’s a better album as a whole, more coherent and cohesive than Vives. And the songs that should be hits – like “Los Angeles” are pretty tight. But my favorite track from the album is this tune that almost reminds me of something The Raveonettes would have done a few years ago:
6) Metric – Act of Doubt – Metric is one of those bands where I like a song of theirs every few years, but never seem to like their entire albums. They’ve tinkered with their sound over the years, but they seem to be in a good (confident!) place with Art of Doubt. It’s new, yet familiar, and for some reason, the whole thing clicks with me in a way that their previous albums – even the ever-popular Synthetica and Fantasies – simply did not.
5) Sexores – East / West – It’s kind of a strange cultural imperialism that I’ve never really thought much about South American music. I guess I assumed that South Americans all listened to some form of tejano or samba music, depending on their proximity to Mexico and Brazil, respectively. And I even thought this knowing that Morrissey is strangely popular in Mexico. That’s what makes it so surprising (to this honky) that a band like Sexores should come from Quito, Ecuador… yet largely sound like so many other European bands I love. Check this out – they could be any hip band from Brooklyn, London or Stockholm. The rest of the album is equally great, too:
4) Pastel Ghost – Ethereality – Vivian Moon, founder and sole full-time member of Pastel Ghost, makes lush, ethereal, sumptuous, diaphanous, otherworldly, gossamer electropop. The music kind of reminds me of an “angelic Ladytron”, a kind of breathless electronic heaven that should be more popular with the people who chose the pop music for TV, movies and commercials. One track in particular, “3NDL3SS”, sounds like something that, had it been used in an iPod commercial in 2008, would have caused hundreds of thousands of people to google “synthy song in iPod commercial”. My only complaint is that, while the album as a whole is tight, it does tend to get a bit “samey” in the middle. It’s still fantastic though!
3) The Perfect Kiss – Filter – And now… the Battle Royale for the album that will reign supreme in 2018! Have you ever wondered what a synthpop album would sound like if it were made with modern recording and production techniques, but on vintage equipment? Well, wonder no more: British writer and producer Joe Moore teamed with vocalist Holly Vanags to create one of the best albums of the year, all on circa 1985 equipment. It sounds both modern and retro at the same time somehow, and influences seem to come from all sides. Listen carefully and you can hear CHVRCHES, OMD, Visage, Yazoo and Human League. It’s terrific, and nothing shows it off more than the lead track, “Glitches”, which is probably my second favorite song of the year!
2) Therapie TAXI – Hit Sale – Every so often an album comes along and seems to perfectly capture the time in which it was made. I call these “zeitgeist albums”, and the difficult thing about making one is that they’re almost impossible to make on purpose. If you tried to make an album about 2018 you’d have songs about Brett Kavanaugh and #MeToo, and that album would sound as dated as a Capitol Steps album five years from now. All this is a lengthy intro to say that Therapie TAXI’s debut album – Hit Sale, a nice bi-lingual pun, since it means “dirty hit” in French and could mean “selling out” in English – perfectly captures 2018 in 46 minutes. It’s songs about Tinder and Uber and drinking too much and ex-boyfriends – and some songs are so profane they make even me blush. But here’s the thing: to call this album “catchy” is a gross understatement. THIS ALBUM HAS MORE HOOKS THAN A BASS PRO SHOP. I don’t speak French. I look up the lyrics (in French) and translate them into English. I still can’t really sing along, even though I’ve heard some of the songs a hundred times. But I just. can’t. stop. listening. It’s THAT GOOD, folks!
1) You Drive – You Drive – Ya ever have an album pop-up out of nowhere and just GRAB YOU and refuse to let go? Welcome to 2018’s album of the year! You Drive is Matthew Steven Pusti (who records under the name Makeup and Vanity Set) and Jasmin Kaset (daughter of noted country\Christian songwriter Angela Kaset). They do electronic music together. It’s awesome. End of story. I love every song on this album – it’s only been out since August, and it’s already #2 on my all-time albums list! But nothing quite captures their song like the opening track, “New”:
With the caveat that “EPs and singles aren’t albums”:
Clara Luciani – Saint Victoire
Computer Magic – Danz
Den-Mate – Loceke
Farao – Pure-O
Fickle Friends – You Are Someone Else
Future Synths – Now
Korine – New Arrangements
Let’s Eat Grandma – I’m All Ears
Train to Spain – A Journey
Julia Holter – Aviary
Geowulf – Great Big Blue
Still Corners – Slow Air
Lykke Li – So Sad So Sexy
Peine Perdue – Tokyo En Morceaux
Cœur de pirate – En cas de tempête, ce jardin sera fermé
Lastly… it’s a single, not an album.. but I’m SO HAPPY that Postiljonen has a new single out, with a new album to come in 2019! I love you guys SOOO MUCH! Bring on the new year!