Joel picks some very Joel albums, as Joel is wont to do
Most years there's one album that stands out among the rest as my hands-down favorite. This wasn't one of those years. But that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of great music released in 2018. So here are my 10 favorite albums (plus one EP), which I'm merely listing in alphabetical order because I'm a grown-up and it's a free country.
1. Adam Remnant, Sourwood (Anyway)
On Adam Remnant's first full-length release since the end of Athens, Ohio's Southeast Engine, he doesn't just pick up where he left off. Remnant's songwriting and weathered-beyond-his-years voice continue to mature as he contemplates the tension between the comforts of home and the lure of the road.
2. Advance Base, Animal Companionship (Run for Cover)
For some reason I never paid much attention to Chicago's Owen Ashworth when he made music as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but I'm hooked on his Advance Base project. Animal Companionship is rumpled, empathic bedroom pop addressing, in Ashworth's words, “the very basic, animal need for someone else to lean on and to be leaned on.” RIYL Damien Jurado, David Bazan, Youth Lagoon.
3. boygenius, boygenius EP (Matador)
You'd think, being a Phoebe Bridgers fanboy, that I'd be predisposed to dig this EP. But supergroups so often disappoint, so I had some skepticism when I learned that Bridgers was teaming up with fellow songwriters Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. Then I listened, and any trace of doubt disappeared. All six songs are pretty much perfect, deftly incorporating each songwriter's strengths in service of the whole.
4. Doug Paisley, Starter Home (No Quarter)
This understated Toronto songwriter is a master of melody and casual observation, both of which plant themselves deep and begin to flower with each listen. On Starter Home's title track, Paisley describes a house that plays host to parties in the kitchen, slow dances in the hall and baby-waking motorcycles in the alley. Just like Paisley's unhurried style, the situation slowly, subtly begins to darken. “We're not fighting; we're just talking,” he sings, and by the end of the song, the for-sale sign in the front yard serves as more of a relational tombstone than a real estate transaction.
5. H.C. McEntire, Lionheart (Merge)
North Carolina's H.C. McEntire began her “slow walk back to country” in Mount Moriah, but on Lionheart she fully embraces her Southern-ness (at the urging of none other than Kathleen Hanna). It's a gorgeous, atypical country record — one that addresses depression and mental illness and reckons with her Southern Baptist upbringing. “It's a wild world that'll make you believe in a kingdom full of mercy and faith/It's a fine line, and I will walk it with grace,” she sings on “A Lamb, A Dove,” already ably walking the tightrope in the song itself.
6. John Prine, The Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy)
On the 72-year-old's first studio collection of new material in more than a decade, John Prine's gravel voice is as unpaved as ever, his sharp wit is at its goofy peak and his sentimental streak should come packaged with a watery-eye warning to those who prefer not to tear up in public. When Prine wrestles with mortality, it can sound like a bedtime prayer (see “God Only Knows”) or a raucous party. “I'm gonna get a cocktail, vodka and ginger ale/Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long,” he convincingly sings on “When I Get to Heaven.”
7. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour (MCA Nashville)
Everybody kept talking about this album, so I finally listened, and you know what? They were right. This is the Texas songwriter's best work to date — a left turn that's both a grand, ambitious statement and a chill conversation on the couch.
8. Nathan Salsburg, Third (No Quarter)
Third is a melodic, crisply played, no-frills solo guitar record that, unlike Salsburg's dronier contemporaries, is a testament to what's possible with six strings, two hands and nothing else. Salsburg, curator of the Alan Lomax Archive and frequent Joan Shelley collaborator, brilliantly bridges the past and future of folk music.
9. Rosali, Trouble Anyway (Spinster/Scissor Tail)
On 2016's Out of Love (Siltbreeze), Rosali Middleman lightly dressed her folk-pop with psychedelic flourishes, and on this shoegaze-y follow-up she indulges her cosmos-exploring tendencies even more, especially on eight-minute psych jam “Rise to Fall.” Trouble Anyway is an album for fans of Cat Power, Sharon Van Etten and Kurt Vile, and there's no good reason Rosali's name isn't as well-known as her peers.
10. Saba, CARE FOR ME (Saba Pivot)
For whatever reason, this is the only hip-hop album of 2018 that made me perk up and smash that play button over and over again. On a soul-baring record that deals with loneliness, grief and trauma, the young Saba deals with the murder of his cousin and his own ambitions in an uncertain future, all deftly told in rhymes that remind me of what I love about Saba forebears Kendrick Lamar and CARE collaborator Chance the Rapper.
11. Yo La Tengo, There's a Riot Going On(Matador)
There's a Riot Going On is one of the least riotous YLT records, and not at all like the Sly & the Family Stone album of the same name. Every Yo La Tengo record is instantly recognizable as Yo La Tengo, but Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew never feel settled. On Riot, the creatively restless trio trade neatly woven indie pop and sprawling squalls of guitar feedback for hypnotic, krautrock-inspired meditations that feel like the tail end of a storm, when the thunder is done clapping, and all that's left is a distant rumble.