I’m not more qualified than anyone to talk about music. Sure, I spent a decade of my life on the periphery of the industry, but that doesn’t mean I know more artists than you do. Sure, I have the vocabulary to blag my way into a discussion on the subject, but that doesn’t mean I’m not just “dancing about architecture,” as Martin Mull said. My tastes aren’t somehow righter than yours. No one’s are.
So I’m not naming the Best Anything of 2018. These are just my favorites.
But because it was 2018 and because there are 8 categories, let’s go ahead and get our trite on…
Click to see my FAVOR8 of 2018.
FAVOR8 NEW ALBUM:
Here’s To The Fatigue – Press to MECO
My wife said it best: “Great band. Terrible name.”
I’ve had my eyes on (ears on?) Press To MECO for almost two years. The first time hearing the harmonies of “Diffusion of Responsibility” was like a whipcrack. I sat up. I was paying attention. I sought everything out. I watched interviews and making-of videos, listened to their original EP Affinity, then their miles-better LP Good Intent, and knew that, if we were lucky enough to get a sophomore record, we’d finally see this band mature into what they were meant to be. With Here’s To The Fatigue, the band goes from Promising British Power Trio to The Future Of Rock ‘N Roll. These three sing, in perfect harmony – their lyrics co-written by the drummer and a cat – a warning to every other band out there. “Your ass will never be the same.”
My greatest regret is finding out too late that they recorded this album in my own Austin, TX. I would have been all too happy to buy Luke, Adam, and Lewis a drink and say, “Guys, I get what you’re going for, and I love it, I really do, but you’ve got to do something about that name.”
(In No Particular Order)
Vaxis – Act 1: The Unheavenly Creatures – Coheed And Cambria
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tip the hat to my favorite band of all time – a spot they will retain no matter what music they put out from this point forward. So it is not with the most objective ear that I analyze this new album. Except that I didn’t particularly like their last album – the non-conceptual The Color Before The Sun – or their 2010 release – the prequel that turned into a middlequel (oh, English, I’m sorry), Year Of The Black Rainbow. The aggressive riffs of “The Dark Sentencer,” though, promised a return to form for the only band that’s permanently inked onto my body. What can you want from an album beyond complex compositions illustrating the highs and lows of an intergalactic Bonnie and Clyde? It doesn’t live up to all its promises, but at its best, it’s Coheed at their best. And that’s pretty damn good.
We Will All Be Gone – Good Tiger
This semi-supergroup’s first album, A Head Full Of Moonlight, was a revelation. I looked around, asking people I knew who knew a thing or two about music, “Am I the only one listening to this?” Their second full-length is more of the same. Which is a misleading phrase. It’s another Scorsese film. It’s Michael Jordan dunking again. It’s exactly what they gave us last time. The world should be so lucky as to be bored by having music this consistently good.
Knowing What You Know Now – Marmozets
This band, Marmozets – almost certainly not The Marmozets, despite the title of their first album – is hard to define. Which I often find describes the best and worst bands working today. Luckily for anyone who hears them, these Brits fall into the former category. They’re punk and rock and hardcore and pop and just really, really good. Becca MacIntyre has perfectly measured out when to whisper, when to croon, when to sing, and when to scream. This is a band that’s going to set alternative music on fire and laugh as they burn down all the walls of genre with it.
Artificial Selection – Dance Gavin Dance
Most people haven’t heard of Dance Gavin Dance. Most of the people who have don’t like them. And I can’t fault them for that. Between unclean ramblings of “Show up at the ball with yo doo doo faced babe!” and the signature falsetto of “Your catharsis is beautiful,” DGD can be a lot to parse. And that’s just the first track on their latest – and tenth – record. It’s easy for someone who gets swept up in arguments of who’s the best vocalist in the band’s long history (the only correct answer is the least obvious: our lord and savior Jon Mess) to miss the beauty of what this record offers. Tracks featuring a voice we haven’t heard in a long time aren’t credited as Dance Gavin Dance ft. Kurt Travis. It’s just DGD. It’s family.
From The Gallery Of Sleep – Night Verses
Night Verses are almost as inescapable as they are inaccessible. Stretches of instrumentation so complicated that you pull your headphones off thinking, “What did I just listen to,” give way to the riffs repeating in your head for the next week. I had listened to a couple of albums’ worth of Night Verses while they still sported a vocalist, and I had liked some of it, but that was about it. Who knew they needed to take an ingredient out to perfect the recipe. Whoever ditched whom before the release of “Copper Wasp” – the first fully instrumental single off their first fully instrumental album – I couldn’t approve more. The music’s tight and raw and challenging. I tend to like a good faith challenge.
All Ashore – Punch Brothers
Didn’t think I had it in me, huh? After every other album fell somewhere on the spectrum of Rock – Metal, here comes folk darling and notoriously whisper-mouthed Punch Brothers. It’s not just to buck a trend and make a point. (I could’ve made the case for Aly & AJ’s Ten Years (Deluxe) deserving to be considered as more than an EP if I needed the validation that badly.) I can appreciate a good album in one of my less-favorite genres when I hear it. And this is a masterwork.
Weezing – Glowbug
The last-minute-est entry is also one of the most purely enjoyable. A collection of Weezer covers by an established musician’s electronic side project, frequently littered with Afro-Caribbean influences? Yes, I’ll take the check now, please. That’s all I never knew I needed.
FAVOR8 OLD ALBUM:
Where The Mind Wants To Go / Where You Let It Go – I The Mighty
The only real debate here was between Connector or this album holding the top spot. I The Mighty was gonna win no matter what. And not just because I discovered them because of their collaboration with (admittedly problematic) Dance Gavin Dance vocalist Tilian. Not even because I found out, watching an old live performance, that frontman Brent Walsh (who solo released a really strange and interesting EP this year) has a Coheed And Cambria tattoo in exactly the same spot as me. Ultimately it comes down to careful construction of an album that has everything you need. I won’t enumerate what those individual pieces are, because you should find out for yourself if you haven’t already.
(In No Particular Order)
Apex – Unleash The Archers
One of the only purely metal bands that got any spins on Radio De Alex, probably because they check all the boxes of the genre’s titans. Catchy-but-complex instrumentation? Face-melting vocals? Check. Bigger-than-life concept? Super check. Give whatever their next album ends up being a spin on Radio De You.
Disappear Here – Bad Suns
I’d like to think I was on the Bad Suns train pretty early. I gave “Rearview” and “Cardiac Arrest” their fair share of listens. But it was attending a concert – at the behest of my now-cousin-in-law (?) – just days before my wedding near the end of 2017 that really sealed the deal. Disappear Here became my go-to when I started a new job in the middle of 2018, and there’s no reason to think I’ll stop listening to this hit-after-hit record anytime soon.
All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell – PVRIS
Another go-to for getting work done. I can’t get enough of Lynn Gunn’s vocals. (She’s also a sickeningly skilled visual artist, as if being at the top of your game in one discipline isn’t enough.) See, for example of this trio’s genius, their collaboration with Circa Waves, which transforms the pretty good “Fire That Burns” into a transcendental alt anthem.
The Sky Is Not The Limit – I Built The Sky
There were several contenders for the instrumental album/artist I listened to most this year, and though Intervals took a shot at the title, ultimately the belt went to this heart-quickening, jam-after-jam collaboration between guitar virtuosos. Want to feel like you can never do anything this good even if you practiced every day for the rest of your life? Listen to “Stratifornis” ft. Jake Howsam Lowe.
Stranger Heads Prevail – Thank You Scientist
(I say the following out of the deepest respect and largely because it was my wife’s immediate reaction to hearing “My Famed Disappearing Act” off their 2014 album Maps Of Non-Existent Places.) Maybe they are just a lower-budget Coheed And Cambria with a horns section. But can that possibly be such a bad thing?
The Years Ahead – Abandoned By Bears
I don’t know if this album is good. But it’s fun. And that can be enough sometimes. The only reason, I suspect, their 2018 release didn’t make my year-end release was how late it entered the race. Drink in the pure energy of the Bears’ balls-to-the-wall cover of “I Want You Back” (the Jackson Five – not *NSYNC – version, much to my sadness).
Rare – Hundredth
Hundredth earns a spot on this list not because I discovered this album too late but because I didn’t give it its due when I first listened. The 2018 release of Ultrarare made me go back and reexamine the 2017 album that it reworked and 80s-ified. And it’s amazing. Plenty of critics with better credentials than mine have praised the bravery of a synthcore experiment by a hardcore artist, and when you listen, you will, too.
FAVOR8 NEW SONG:
“Good Kisser” – Artist Name
Maybe it hit me at the right time. (Not in terms of my own relationship; that’s doing just fine and has been all year, thank you.) I was just starting at a new job, just traveling away from my wife for the first time in our marriage, and just as confused about what I should be feeling about all those things as I ought to have been. So an infinitely repeatable, belt-your-heart-out anthem like this was exactly what I needed. And, I’d bet, it’s what you need, too. (May I recommend in particular the live version here and not the official music video, which seems to miss the song’s crucial heartbreak and strength.)
(In No Particular Order)
“The Dark Sentencer” – Coheed And Cambria
The whispers bounced off every corner of the collective online Coheedverse. “They’re back.” That was the hope of all fans who had felt… I don’t know the words that are the right balance of accurate and kind. Somewhere between “disappointed” and “wronged” by the previous, non-concept album The Color Before The Sun. So when dour dialogue gave way to grinding guitars and Claudio Sanchez yelling in our faces that we were all going to space prison, we knew. The boys were back.
“UnAmerican” – Said The Whale
Maybe not as catchy or widely-appealing as the hit by which I – and, I’d guess, most casual listeners – know them. But “UnAmerican” is an order of magnitude more interesting, lyrically and texturally, than the car-commercial-worthy “I Love You.” Plus that stop motion music video is the perfect, charming kind of sophistication that shows this band is not here to play games. They’re here to play hooks.
“Made An America” – The Fever 333
It’s not treading any new ground. In fact, it’s treading ground pretty thoroughly trod upon by the titans of the genre. So, to prove that they’re not just wandering around Rage Against The Machine’s gigantic foosteps, Jason Aalon Butler and crew decided to fill that footstep with lots and lots of screaming. And God bless them for it.
“Party Nights” – Strawberry Girls ft. Andres
In lieu of a proper album release from my favorite instrumental band, I’ll settle for a catchy-but-complicated party anthem that also helped define my absolute favorite concert experience of the year.
“POP/STARS” – K/DA
Look, was this faux-KPop virtual band just a marketing campaign for one of the most visibly reprehensible video game companies in existence? Yes. Does that make it a bad song? No. League of Legends makes a lot of money, so they were able to put a lot of money into making this the perfectly pleasing pop experience. Love it or hate it, you’ll love it.
“Tangerines And Daffodils” – The Voodoo Children
My greatest concern for this band is that they will never release another song. That this strong, poppy earworm is all we’ve been graced with so far should be a crime.
“Semi-Charmed Life” – Dance Gavin Dance
That they would even attempt this cover is unthinkable. The end result is unforgivable. But I’ll be god damned if I didn’t listen to it five times in a row in the car one day. It’s perfect in its awfulness. I can’t advise against it strongly enough. Unless you love fun.
FAVOR8 OLD SONG:
“iii” aka “Sword” – Sufferer
This post-hardcore supergroup doesn’t need me to explain their project. They ran a whole (successful) Kickstarter to do just that. And I didn’t need to know the backstory of the album – three vocalists playing the roles of Depression, Anxiety, and the Sufferer – to recognize it was a banger. This song rises and plunges, screams and reassures, and takes you exactly into the shattered state of mind of the band’s titular character. Too bad I missed out on the Kickstarter.
(In No Particular Order)
“Invisible Hands” – Deadlights
It’s perhaps fitting that these Aussies – not to be confused with the defunct American punk band and active Northern Irish four piece of similar names – released their debut album Mesmer the same year that the maddening phenomenon from which they grabbed their name dominated box offices in It. It takes a little madness to make great art, though. As one of their vocalists says at the end of their live version of this song, “That’s the f***ing one.”
“Silver Tongues” – I The Mighty ft. Tilian
Two very different vocal stylings went into this collab, and I couldn’t be happier with the odd result. Its tone perfectly matches the neon pastels of its music video.
“Body Language” – Balance And Composure
I’m not the only one saying it, so it hardly needs to be said. But, just so I can be the last one gripping onto the bandwagon by the tips of my fingers, desperate not to be left behind, I’ll say it, too: “Balance And Composure does it again.”
“Collider” – Have Mercy
“This isn’t where I want to be!” is such a perfect opening line that I wish I’d thought of it myself. It traps the listener in the claustrophobic space of a car, where the vocals scratch against the upholstery and faded fabric ceiling, desperate to get out and infect your brain for days to come.
“Pushing” – Bandit
It’s really a shame that Bandit hasn’t released anything since 2015’s Of Life, because they possess the rawness of 90s grunge without all the, well, everything else that made that movement awful. The instrumentation and vocals are tight but authentic. It feels intimate while it entertains.
“Bloomfield” – Super Whatevr
Yes, I realize this was also included on the band’s 2018 album Never Nothing, but I listened to the single version more, and it came out in 2017. So there. Oh, should I say something about the song? It’s very good. You should listen to it. How was that?
“8 Years” – Colour Revolt
This track hit me the same way “Sick” by HXLT did. Not that they’re musically or even tonally similar. But there’s something hurt and vicious about them both that plucks a nerve. Listening to this song on repeat is like picking at a scab. It feels good, but it shouldn’t, and you can’t stop.
FAVOR8 NEW DISCOVERY:
This one was difficult, because I limited myself not just to music that I was discovering in 2018 but the world had never heard before. The winners couldn’t have released any LP prior to January 1st, 2018. This band didn’t release their first full-length by December 31st, either. But on the strength of the first two singles alone, I’m crowning them the Little Band That Could. Now get back in the studio, boys. It’s time for more.
FAVOR8 LATE DISCOVERY:
First Contact – The Speed Of Sound In Seawater
The first time I heard “Winter Solstice Baby,” I didn’t know what to think. I don’t know if it’s possible to parse your feelings on the strangeness of this little band the first time around. So I listened to their whole (final) album. And I listened again. And once more. By the time I had streamed it upwards of ten times in a little more than a day, I knew. I was in love. And I ought to be thrown in jail for not listening to these guys when they were still together. And so should they for not letting me know. And then we can all sit down together and talk mythology and heartbreak and all the other imperfections that make life worth listening to.
Razia’s Shadow: A Musical – Artist Name
What happens when you take a never-quite-made-it pop punk band that has access through its label to artists like Panic! At The Disco, The Dear Hunter, Saves The Day, mewithoutyou, Portugal. The Man, and half a dozen others and wants to make a musical that tells the story of how pride led to a world being mismade and how love can bring it right again? A beautiful, wonderful mess of an album that has no right to exist but does, and damn am I grateful for it. I’m equally grateful for the entirely revised live musical version that you can experience, even if no one else really got to.
The Party Nights Tour – Strawberry Girls / Night Verses / Andres
This answer – and, indeed, entire category – is entirely self-serving. You can’t experience this show. It happened, and you weren’t there (I know, because I could see all fifty faces in the room at its most crowded). And what really makes a concert great isn’t the music itself. It’s the way you experience it. All the tertiary factors that add up to making a single night perfect. Those things, for me, were having an extended conversation with Andres by his merch table (I was almost ready to sleep with the guy, so I can only imagine what it must be like when he really turns on the charm for the ladies); seeing Night Verses practically set the stage on fire, even though they had to use prerecorded drums (their drummer having committed to touring with The Fever 333 before this tour was announced); and getting all three of the multi-instrumentalist geniuses behind Strawberry Girls to sign my American Graffiti vinyl. Between that and the fact that it was in San Antonio so I got to pop into Fiesta Texas for an hour or so before the show started made it a concert worth paying actual money for.
FAVOR8 BAND NAME:
(Did I insert this category just so I could get to a nice, round 8? That’s for me to know and then tell you: yes. For sure.)
Michael Cera Palin
It’s a pun that only works when said out loud. But isn’t that true for all the best ones? Oh, and their music’s alright, too.
(In No Particular Order)
Whether this band is just coming to a realization about its own name or the sudden presence of very tall mammals, the punctuation makes all the difference.
I don’t know if the period in the name is a specific jab at the late Fun., but the rest of the name is solid enough to compensate no matter what.
Their name is the first hint that they’ve got a message, and it’s that they’re not a fan of everything everyone else is a fan of.
The latest album sounds exactly as depressing and fragile as the band’s name feels.
They’re here, they’re queer, and both of those things may or may not be true. Want to leave feeling as confused as the band name implies? Listen to their appropriately-titled 2018 EP, “I’m So Confused.”
The Speed Of Sound In Seawater
Want to get your band googled a lot? Make your name something students might need to look up.
I don’t know what makes it different from American softball. Maybe this ball is actually soft? Maybe it apologizes if it misses your glove or bat?