Typically I find myself writing these year-end wrap-ups with robotic insight. Rather than thinking about albums on a deeper emotional level, I tended to rank my prior ratings and rank accordingly. Even though I am happy with my number ones each year, they tend to be albums I rarely revisit. For this reason, and the fact that I have had more marathon sessions of "Baby Shark" and Disney songs than expected, I had to change my perspective on what makes a top album in 2018.
That said, my top albums this year did not always have the highest ratings when I heard them initially, but are those albums that resonated with me long after their release. All of the records became palate cleansers for when I had some time to myself between work and dad work or if I wanted to hear something fresh during morning coffee runs.
10. Amber Lamps - On The Lamb
Amber Lamps's "On The Lamb" is a breezy E.P. that just rocks. From the melodic bassline of "Wanderlust" to the 90s era pastiche "Catastrophe," Amber Lamps pulled me in and made me come back often since September. I look forward to digging deeper into Amber Lamps's back catalog throughout next year.
9. Lucero - Among The Ghosts
Lucero is a more recent entry to my list of "bands I obsessed over in my later years." In 2016 I had one of their albums, and by the end of 2017, I had their entire discography, duplicates on vinyl and seen them live whenever they came to town. Naturally, when "Among The Ghosts" came out I was excited to hear what these 20-year veterans had left to offer. You know what they had to offer, just two of my favorite songs they ever have done. "To My Dearest Wife" and "Loving" are some of the most touching songs I have ever heard, and they hit hard nearly every listen. These are the type of songs that will have longevity on alt wedding playlists for years to come. Yet two songs do not make a top album alone. "Among The Ghosts" is full of darker moody songs that fit into the greater Lucero songwriting pedigree. For those looking to beyond the singles, check out "Cover Me" and "Long Way Back Home." These songs feel like they belong on earlier records, but have the expertise of later albums. Lucero is very skilled at working on a song until it is ready. They rarely release "filler," all of their songs have a purpose on their respective albums and these songs fit well on "Among the Ghosts."
8. Bad Sports - Constant Simulation
Bad Sports is one of those bands that make you miss playing music with your buddies and also hate the fact your dumb friends and you will never write anything as good as "Constant Simulation." This Texas trio methodical instrumentation elevates their lo-fi brand of punk rock to a level of enjoyment. What's more Bad Sports's sequencing on "Constant Simulation" is superb and demands to be listened to in its entirety. Which is a good thing because if am in the middle of "Constant Simulation" during my regular naptime drives with my 3-year old, I don't mind keeping this album going until my little guy wakes up (he likes it too).
7. Jeff Rosenstock - POST-
Jeff Rosenstock may be my punk rock spirit animal. Much like Beyonce, "POST-" was released without any prior promotion or marketing, just an email with a download link on Jan1, 2018. But besides the gimmick of the spontaneous album drop, "POST-" is genuinely good. As stated in my review, Rosenstock's songwriting ability peak on "All The Useless Energy" and "9/10". Both songs are beautifully quite but keep Rosenstock's negative edge, but with chimes and butterfly-like atmosphere. Furthermore, "POST-" wasn't Rosenstock's only 2018 release, he also teamed up with his longtime collaborator, Chris Farren, for another Antarctigo Vespucci outing. This is also a fun album to talk about, "POST-" gets my vote for 2018.
6. Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds - Keep Walkin' Pal
Much to Tom's chagrin, "Keep Walkin' Pal" gets a place on my "Top Albums of the Year" list. Despite the expected ridiculousness of Brendan Kelly project, "Keep Walkin' Pal" maybe some of his most satirical work to date. Kelly's typical lyrical wit is there, but his sarcastic sense of humor extends to the music itself. For instance, "Boardin' USA" is not only a tribute to The Beach Boys but a superb indictment of America's use of waterboarding during interrogations. Or if you want something a little more fun than a song about torture practices, "Huggz" is all about functional drug use. Kelly has once again entertained me, grossed me out and also made me think a little in 2018, and I am hoping his visit to the West Coast in 2019 will continue this tradition.
5. Tiny Stills - Laughing Into The Void
It is an easy comparison to say Tiny Stills is reminiscent of Peach Kelli Pop or the Sugar Stems, but I think "Laughing Into The Void" places her in the upper echelon of 2018 albums. Each song is whimsical, yet biting. Tiny Stills writes nothing but irresistible earworms that stick with you long after the album ends and frankly makes you want just to put it on repeat. Also, her series of cover songs on YouTube are pretty great. I never thought I would be charmed by someone while listening to Smash Mouth, but Tiny Stills walks this very narrow line.
4. Mean Jeans - Jingles Collection
What can I say about a pop-punk band blatantly writing jingles in hopes of selling out? Not much more. The Mean Jeans's "Jingles Collection" is my favorite gimmick of the year but also really fun to listen to. It is a wild ride of 24 songs, nearly all clocking under 1 minute in length, about various corporate brands you probably have within your proximity right now. The best part of this album is it worked! Several of the brands actually acknowledged or used Mean Jeans's jingle in their foreign markets.
3. Dashboard Confessional - Crooked Shadows
I am an unapologetic Dashboard fanboy. Chris Carrabba's crooning used to be a guilty pleasure, but after the release of "Crooked Shadows," I have to admit I enjoy this band more than I let on. Carrabba's ability to write both intimate, acoustic ballads and huge, bombastic arena anthems are some of the most compelling aspects Dashboard (he also has great hair). Yet, before "Crooked Shadows," Carrabba would stick to one style of songwriting on an album or mix it up very little. But after spending the time between albums to become a prolific collaborator has allowed him to broaden his horizons and reimage what a Dashboard album is. No there are no songs about being wronged by a lover, having a good day or the beach, but "Crooked Shadows" attempts to hit on for universal themes of togetherness and against the odds. These themes struck a massive chord with his audience because when I saw Dashboard a few weeks after the release of "Crooked Shadow" the new song were sung just as loud as the hits. Or maybe that was just me embarrassing my wife.
2. The Get Up Kids - Kicker E.P.
I was trepidatious to hear The GetUp Kids were releasing new music. Mostly because I rarely like new TGUK music until I have given it a few listens. However, "Kicker" was an instant favorite. For the first time in nearly a decade, I found myself listening to new TGUK music more often and more frequently than anything they have released previously. On "Kicker" TGUK managed to write new music that fits seamlessly into their back-catalog. This isn't to say that TGUK were resting on their laurels nor were they just reworking the hits, I think TGUK found a way to recapture some magic into a 4-song E.P. Maybe it was their constant touring or they just figured out how to work with each other again. Whatever TGUK did I hope they keep doing it, more TGUK music is very much welcome.
1. Jukebox the Ghost - Off to the Races
Based on my "Top Album" criteria, Jukebox the Ghost's "Off to the Races" is the album I listened to the most and the album I tend to go back whenever I just want to listen to something fun. While the previous releases leaned heavily on the pop side of this power pop trio, but "Off to the Races" is a return to a piano-based epic rock sound. This return begins with the powerhouse "Jumpstarted." This song is best described as a modern-day Queen anthem; piano, harmony and super singable. This jumpstarts (pun intended) two other songs chopped full of big sounds with cutting lyrics of loneliness, work and getting older.
Much like Brendan Kelly and Dashboard Confessional's 2018 releases, Jukebox has mastered the art of tackling darker lyric content with super poppy music. Maybe this is a reflection of the time we are in, or perhaps it is supposed to be the light within the dark.
Honorable Mention: Tenacious D - Post-Apocalypto
The D is one of my favorite things in life. But I'll admit their best songwriting was done before Jack Black's rise to superstardom. However, "Post-Apocalypto" isn't just an album. It is an experience. One needs to watch the "Post-Apocalypto" mini-series on YouTube (warning it is explicit) and then listen to the album. Only then will you truly appreciate what Tenacious D has done here. Also, remembering the visuals while listening to this album during a workout session will definitely give you some giggles and make the people around you weary of your presence.