I think it’s fair to say most of us will remember 2018 as a pretty tumultuous year. It seems like every week there was some kind of unusual or momentous happening. Contentious elections, dire environmental happenings and social upheaval - 2018 had it all.
It’s perhaps fitting then that the music world in 2018 was also experiencing its own period of upheaval. Perhaps more than any year I can recall, the best music of the year was made by new voices, while established voices mainly remained quiet, possibly experiencing their own issues.
I picked five albums that might have crept under the radar in this busy year and detailed why they are worth your time. Here’s hoping for a steadier year in 2019.
Some of the best rock music in its early years was connected to the fractious happenings of the day. Think about the work of musicians like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The fourth album from Philadelphia’s Restorations taps into today’s political world with a sharp eye and empathetic approach to the everyday people affected by the decisions of politicians.
At times, Jon Loudon’s vocals convey rage and other times resignation. But on the best album opener of the year, he gets at one universal truth — none of us can do this on our own.
As a listener, it’s always exciting when a rapper you’ve been hearing as a guest on other’s songs breaks out into the world on their own. It took Simmie Sims III, who performs under the name Buddy, nearly a decade to get to that point, but he did this year with the release of “Harlan and Alondra.”
The album is practically engineered to be played loud in your car on a sunny day with the windows rolled down. Highlights like “Trouble on Central,” “The Blue” and “Speechless” are the perfect blends of rap and soul, thanks to Buddy’s gifts as a rapper and singer. Hopefully, this is just the first entry in a long career.
Its encouraging to know that after more than 50 years as a cultural force, rock music still is home to random band names that don’t make a lick of sense. But don’t let the fact that 19-year-old Lindsey Jordan records under the goofy name of Snail Mail distract you from the fact that she’s a guitar hero for a new generation.
“Lush,” the debut album from Snail Mail, is an astoundingly assured and lovely 10-track affair. Each entry is startlingly intimate entry of an audio journal, where Jordan explores love and life and the sadness that often comes from both. Jordan also proves herself a wicked-sly guitar player, layering solos and licks into her moody alt-rock missives. If you think rock is dead, put this album on before you record time of death.
The sophomore album is a tricky proposition for many recording artists. Many repeat themselves, others make bold attempts at new sounds, but very few actually manage to improve. Yet New York’s Wild Pink manage to do just that on “Yolk in the Fur.”
The group’s debut was a clever, but fairly routine indie rock record. But on “Yolk,” they embrace the kind of heartland rock that has made groups like The War on Drugs top draws at festivals all over the country. Wild Pink washes their songs in shimmering acoustic guitars, quicksilver solos and echoing vocal work. The end result is a transporting interior journey.
For most of the 21st century, women have proven themselves to be MVPs of the country genre. Performers like Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and early Taylor Swift ignored the bro-culture of the genre, and instead mined their lives for songs about love, the challenges facing small communities and much more.
On her second album, Ashely McBryde proves herself a worthy continuation of this line of performers. “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” is one of the most honest songs about feeling lost I’ve heard from any performer, and that’s just one of 11 gems on this treasure-trove. Dig in.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.
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