Friday, January 11, 2019

Top Films and Music of 2018

Below is my roundup of my favorite films and music of 2018. In all honesty, I missed a lot of films, but this is the best of what I managed to see.

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018

1. Sorry to Bother You
2. Avengers: Infinity War
3. Bodied
4. Isle of Dogs
5. Destroyer
6. RBG
7. Blindspotting
8. Beirut
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
10. Three Identical Strangers



Listen to all the below albums on my Best Albums of 2018 Playlist.

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer

In a world without Prince, we can all be thankful we have Janelle Monáe. Like the Purple One, Monáe seamlessly melds rap, R&B, pop, and rock with a masterfulness that is unseen in the current music industry, and her skills shine through on Dirty Computer. From the opening track, backed with Beach Boys-styled harmonies (courtesy of Brian Wilson himself), it's clear that the album is going to be something fresh. Wilson's group famously wrote about songs about pure teen Americana, girls, cars, and parties, and on "Crazy, Classic Life", Monáe revitalizes this formula with a perfectly modern sheen that reflects on our current times. Monae tackles being a black, pansexual woman in America throughout this opus, but always keeps the lyrics and musical totally accessible. Whether it's the lascivious bubblegum of "Screwed" or the sharp topical rap on "Django Jane", every song has character, a message, and stands on its own merits while never feeling out of place on the album. It's monument to modern music, and is one that will hold up for generations to come.

2. U2 - Songs of Experience

U2 have not had the best last decade. Bono suffered a serious run-in with death, receive less radio play, and their albums have met with disregard (No Line on the Horizon) or outright scorn (Songs of Innocence) - though the latter was more due to the method of distribution more than the actual music. And that may be at the heart of the issue - people have spent more time paying attention to the band as a brand or a representation of Bono's oversized personality than actually listening to their music. With Songs of Experience, the Irish rockers flip the script and have returned the focus to what they are - amazing musicians and songwriters. Throughout this collection, it feels like U2 have got their groove back, whether it be hard rockers ("American Soul", "The Blackout"), danceable new wave ("Red Flag Day", "The Showman") or the big anthemic ballads they do better than anyone else ("You're the Best Thing About Me", "Landlady"). The songs both hearken to the band's classic songs while sound completely part of 2018. The lyrics at times touch on the political climate, but with the right amount of attitude to wash over any preachiness. It's simply the best U2 album since All That You Can't Leave Behind. If you're one of the people who wrote off U2 after that album, now is the time to revisit them.

3. Ben Howard - Noonday Dream

With his third full length album, Ben Howard has continued his evolution from an adept pop rock songwriter to a composer of complex, moody and atmospheric musical tapestries that flow and breathe. While this all sounds very elitist and artsy, it needs be said that Howard does all of this without abandoning gorgeous melodies that ruminate in your head for weeks to follow. The melancholy highlight "Nica Libres at Dusk" emotes longing through a dreamy haze, "Towing the Line" drifts elegiacally like an indie folk sea ballad...I could go on touting the majesty of each track. This album is truly mean to be a headphone journey, to be listened to closely in a quiet room while you lay back and let each song breach your defenses and take you away into Howard's world.

4. Dessa - Chime

Dessa is a true multi hyphenate - a rapper, singer, composer...the list goes on. On Chime, she has all of these talents on display, and creates an album that leaves you wanting more. Chime is possibly her most diverse album to date as well, with laments on loss ( the moving "Good Grief"), bangers ("Fire Drills", "5 Out of 6"), and even a straight-up pop ("Half of You") - and it's excellent throughout. While she's yet to reach the full mainstream, the mainstream knows she's where it's at - Lin Manuel Miranda chose her for the Hamilton Mixtape and also included her on his Puerto Rico benefit song, and you certainly can't argue with that man's taste!

5. Darlingside - Extralife

One of the best discoveries of this year, Darlingside craft songs enriched by perfect folk harmonies that imbue everything they touch with an extra warmth and depth. Drawing influences from The Byrds to the Beach Boys, the group boast pitch-perfect harmonies that shine even on the simplest tracks. Unlike similar groups, the songs on Extralife won't put you to sleep. The soul and advanced musicianship on tracks like "Singularity" feel like the soundtrack to a hero's journey, while "Indian Orchard Road" invokes the nostalgia and warmth of an east coast autumn day. "Futures" vibes like Simon & Garfunkel, while "Eschaton" mixes electronic touches in with the folk for a sound that is entirely Darlingside's. This is a group to watch.

6. Brian Fallon - Sleepwalkers

Brian Fallon has spent most of his music career escaping comparisons to his influences, and on his second solo album, he successfully comes into his own, making music that sounds wholly his own. Fallon's songwriting remains ever strong, writing upbeat rockers about death ("Forget Me Not") and mournful love songs ("Watson") that grow stronger on repeated listens. He also branches out musically, incorporating 80's influences and ska riffs ("Come Wander With Me"), all the while continuing to elevate his storytelling lyricism ("Yes, and you always believed there was some kind of diamond in me/Oh but if you still burn every night in the hurt/I know a place where the pain doesn't reach"). Fallon isn't quite at the level of his musical heroes like Springsteen, Knopfler or Strummer yet, but with albums like Sleepwalkers, he's certainly on his way.

7. The Coup - Sorry to Bother You

An incredibly original and provocative movie like Sorry to Bother You deserves an equally incredible soundtrack, and the director Boots Riley's rap group The Coup delivered, with a little help from Tune-Yards, Janelle Monáe, Killer Mike and others. Riley's lyrics are sharp, smart and clever throughout, rewarding multiple listens, and like the film, the album's tone runs the gamut without feeling like a mixtape. Whether it's hard riff-rap on opener "OYAHYTT", the addictive party anthem "Hey Saturday Night", or the unsettling trance rap of "Monsoon", each track feels like it naturally fits onto the album as well as it fits into the wildly unique film.

8. Dirty Projectors - Lamp Lit Prose

I never responded to strongly to the Dirty Projectors until listening to 2018's Lamp Lit Prose. Finding a balance between their quirkier indie tendencies and sticky, afropop melodies and pop hooks, the album twists and bends in crafty ways that keep it fascinating throughout. The warbling electronic noises on "Break-Thru" create an almost-danceable groove, while lead single "It's a Lifestyle" embraces a wistfulness that you will feel though may not understand. The group's lyrics are certainly still esoteric, but like a masterful art film, the meaning and emotion imbued within it still connect

9.Tony Molina - Kill the Lights

Tony Molina began his career in the hardcore scene, where he showed an incredible knack for writing 2 minute punk ragers that never overstayed their welcome. While the length of Molina's songs hasn't changed, Kill the Lights show an incredible growth and evolution as a songwriter. Molina has traded in his Black Flag influence for The Byrds, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. The songs here shimmer with jangling guitars and lilting indie rock vocals, weaving melancholy and hopefulness through every lovely song.  Each track leaves you wanting more, making repeat listens a must as you try to absorb the nuanced musical touches and thoughtful lyrical prose.

10. The English Beat - Here We Go Love

No one gets to say ska is dead as long as albums like Here We Go Love keep getting made. The English Beat, featuring Dave Wakeling, sail through the songs on their latest album like Elvis Costello on a sugar buzz. The music pops, the vocals are silky smooth, and through all of the fun, skank-ready rhythms, the lyrics aren't afraid to touch upon weightier topics (see the excellent "If Killing Worked"). That's not to say some of the songs on here aren't meant for pure fun; the title track is all about the party, and with the rest of the album, is one you'll want to throw on when you need a glorious pick-me-up from our rough world.


Albert Hammond Jr. - Francis Trouble

American Aquarium - Things Change

Family of the Year - Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Nighttime

Fat Tony - 10,000 Hours

Femi Kuti - One People One World

George Ezra - Staying at Tamara's

Imarhan - Temet

Miguel - War & Leisure

Nathan Gray - Feral Hymns

Peter Bjorn & John - Darker Days

Shannon and The Clams - Onion

The Struts - Young&Dangerous

Top Fifty Songs of 2018:

Of the thousands of songs I heard in 2018, about one hundred and fifty managed to shine brightly enough to be worth considering. From these, I once again went through the difficult process of pairing that list down to the fifty best of the best.

Like all lists of its kind, it's purely subjective and there are likely hundreds of other songs I missed that I look forward to discovering as similar lists hit the internet. For now, below are my favorite songs of 2018 (and a few that came out LATE 2017 so are included here). Listen to all of these songs on my Top 50 of 2018 Playlist:

1. Dan Mangan - Fool for Waiting

Released towards the beginning of 2018 as the first single from Dan Mangan's album More or Less, "Fool for Waiting" is at once gorgeous and heart-wrenching. Though stripped down to little more than piano, guitar, and Mangan's deeply resonant vocals, this song struck a chord on multiple levels after just one listen. It's a love song for anyone who's a bit crazy, while also endearingly showing the craziness of love. As Mangan pleads "If you try to be with me, I will try to get by. Some say I'm a fool for waiting, they don't know this fool doesn't mind" it's impossible to not relate (I certainly can in very specific ways). While it's been a while since a ballad like this took top honors, there simply has not been another song this year that was as moving and pure.

2. Dessa - 5 Out of 6

Dessa is a true multi-talent; a singer, rapper, composer, and songwriter able to balance aggressive rhymes with engaging melodies. "5 Out of 6" captures everything that Dessa does well as an artist. The verses have bite, while the melodic chorus is dark and empowering. As she sings "I'm the phoenix and the ash", you'll feel prickles down your spine as you raise your hands in the air, entranced by the waves of rhythm Dessa's hypnotic delivery. The song is more proof that Dessa is one of the most underrated artists  working today.

3. Editors - Magazine

When they first started, Editors received numerous comparisons to goth rock groups like Interpol, but never fairly. The British band traversed similar dark roads in its music, but with incredible amounts of emotion and soul, able to break a heart or send your spirits to heaven through bombastic, U2-style melodies. This soul runs through the veins of "Magazines". The track disarms with its pedantically paced lines, teasing nefarious breadcrumbs like "I got a little secret for you, it's in a magazine", before turning into a booming political rally cry, "Now talk the loudest, with a clenched fist". Digging at the pompous, fascist-leaning leaders in power, the track manages to not let the pointed lyrics overpower the club-ready rhythm, finding a perfect balance that is one of the group's best songs in years.

4. Brian Fallon - Watson

Best known as the lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon is continuing to solidify himself as an incredible solo artist. With his second album, Sleepwalker, Fallon filters his romantic trials and fears of death and loneliness through poetic lyrics and elevated metaphors, no better than on "Watson". The romantic ballad finds Fallon longing for a woman he meets in London, unsure of how a relationship will work, but struggling with the fear of not taking the chance on her. Comparing his fears of losing her to England's famous detective duo trying to track down "the one that got away", the song builds to a cathartic denouement, filled with mournful slide guitars that would make Tom Petty weep. Is pure heart-on-your-sleeve Jersey songwriting in the best possible way.

5. The Vaccines - I Can't Quit

British rockers The Vaccines came back in a big way this year with their best album in years, and an irresistible lead single that was made for shouting along while jumping on a club floor. It's the kind of rock song that could have been a huge hit in any of the last three decades, filled with timeless, pogoing melodies and the perfect "fuck all" delivery that UK rockers do so well.

6. U2 - Red Flag Day

Coming back with their best album since All That You Can't Leave Behind, the veteran Irish rockers managed to sound reinvigorated and relevant throughout Songs of Experience, but nowhere more than on "Red Flag Day". Reminiscent of classics like "New Years Day", the song finds the Edge shaking and swerving with angular guitar spikes that play off Adam Clayton's funky bass lines, until Bono swoons out with subtly melancholy chorus that smartly reigns in some of U2's normal pomp to make the track a dangerously sharp, solid modern rocker.

7. Bedouin Soundclash - Salt-Water

After a long hiatus, Canadian trio Bedouin Soundclash made a triumphant return this year, releasing six singles over the course of the year, all of which were incredibly eclectic, original and memorable, but the strongest had to be the Preservation Hall Jazz Band-assisted first single "Salt-Water". Melding various influences, from New Orleans brass to island calypso, the group created a song that manages to be warm and haunting, bubbly and poignant. I'm all the more excited for 2019 knowing that there are more songs to come from the group.

8. The Interrupters - She's Kerosene

The Interrupters did what many thought was impossible - they brought ska back! Aimee and the Bivonas took North America by storm with their positive and unifying brand of ska punk, and earned a very well-deserved radio hit with the infectious first single. While it was difficult to decide between this track and the incredible "Gave You Everything", the sharp and clever lyrics ("I'm a match, and she's kerosene. You know she's gonna burn down everything") helped "She's Kerosene" edge out its placement on the list.

9. The Coup - Hey Saturday Night (feat. Tune-Yards)

For the soundtrack to Boots Riley's first feature film, Sorry to Bother You, Boots and his group The Coup teamed up with the ever-eclectic Tune-Yards to create a soundtrack that is as crazy, quirky and awesome as the film itself. Of all the great tunes on the album, the highlight has to be the handclap-happy "Hey Saturday Night". An excitably upbeat, good-time party song from the generally socially and politically minded rap group, the song still manages to be as smart as it is catchy, with Boots spitting rhymes like "Entice us with the future, say our destiny's a shopping mall, but we gon' be the looters".

10. Janelle Monáe - Django Jane

While her incredible album Dirty Computer shows off Janelle Monáe as the true heir to Prince, the second single from the diverse album, "Django Jane" stays true to Monáe's hip hop roots without forgetting the black female empowerment message she exalts on the album. "And we gonna start a motherfuckin' pussy riot, or we gon have to put 'em on a pussy diet" may have been a more effective campaign slogan for Hillary than the one she used to rally more women to her cause. Monáe remains an incredible writer and trailblazer, both in her music and her voice.

11. Dashboard Confessional - We Fight

Emo favorite refinds his inner stadium-rocker with this uplifting anthem.

12. Vance Joy - Saturday Sun

A perfect piece of summer acoustic pop from the Australian hit maker.

13. The Fratellis - Starcrossed Losers

The Scottish rockers' very catchy ode to Shakespearian lovers

14. Jukebox the Ghost - Jumpstarted

Queen couldn't have done this multi-part stadium rock composition any better.

15. Alan Silvestri - Even for You

A powerful and moving piece from the excellent Avengers: Infinity War score.

16. Frank Turner - Blackout

Turner turns in his most full-realized rock song yet that perfectly hits both political and personal notes.

17. A Perfect Circle - So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

A surprisingly touching farewell to some of the famous lights lost.

18. Better Than Ezra - Grateful

An unabashedly feel-good slice of pop rock from the 90's hitmakers.

19. The Parrots - Soy Peor (Bad Bunny cover)

A garage rock cover of the Latin trap song that is so much better than the original it became the only cover to make this list.

20. Nathan Gray - As the Waves Crash Down

Passionate acoustic punk from the lead singer of BoySetsFire.

21. Skizzy Mars - American Dream

Mars turns a screed about the economic disadvantages facing young black men in America into an insightful banger.

22. Gin Blossoms - Break

The classic 90's rockers returned with a new single that slowly dug it's way into my consciousness with a simple but extremely effective hook.

23. Ben Howard - Nica Libres at Dusk

A sparse but hauntingly beautiful track from Howard's excellent new album.

24. 88rising - Midsummer Madness

The embodiment of a summer jam, the Asian rapper collective kill it on this hazy addictive opus.

25. Dirty Projectors - That's a Lifestyle

Quirky afropop-influenced indie rock with an undeniably memorable chorus.

26. Lord Huron - Ancient Names (Part 1)

Folk rockers return with a hints of psychedelia added to their sound.

27. Tony Molina - Jasper's Theme

A short and sweet Byrds-esque tune.

28. Amy Shark - The Idiot

Recalls classic Alanis Morissette in her perfect cadence and delivery. Gets stuck in your head too easily.

29. Passengers - Survivors

Hummable and evocative  with true emotional desperation.

30. Gorillaz - Humility (feat. George Benson)

One of the most breezy and summer tunes to ever come from this animated band.

31. Plan B - Guess Again

A British rap/dancehall banger, pure and simple.

32. Marshmello X Bastille - Happier

One of the year's biggest songs, and deservedly so. Melancholy, heart-felt lyrics meld with  club-ready production for an anthem to all those who care more for those they love than themselves.

33. Kokoroko - Abusey Junction

Jazz meets afrobeat for a moody, beautiful instrumental.

34. Muse - Something Human

A surprisingly warm acoustic song about longing to return home from the road that hits the right emotional notes.

35. Family of the Year - Let Her Go

Family of the Year manage to infuse pristine melancholy into their Laurel Canyon folk rock.

36. P.O.S. - Catch a Vibe (feat. Zamora)

A chill summer rap gem from an up-and-comer (note: this is a different rapper than the one on the Doomtree label)

37. Spanish Love Songs - Aloha to No One

Angsty punk band writes a perfect, self-effacing acoustic song about wanting to be better even if you'll never be your best self.

38. Imarhan - Tumast

This Algerian desert rock group bring insane guitar riffage that would make Muse jealous.

39. Eminem - Like Home (feat. Alicia Keys)

Eminem eviscerates Trump while lauding what makes our country great.

40. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness - Ohio

McMahon takes us on a nostalgic journey that is both sad but hopeful as a family leaves Ohio in hopes of finding a fresh start.

41. Peter Bjorn and John - Gut Feeling

The Swedish trio comes back with their catchiest single since "Young Folks", and don't even need a whistle solo to sell it.

42. Alice Merton - Hit the Ground Running

New artist Merton writes an empowering song that will be on running playlists for decades to come.

43. The English Beat - If Killing Worked

Political indictments of war and brutality have never sounded so sugary sweet as this soulful ska song.

44. Ball Park Music - The Perfect Life Does Not Exist

Australian band Ball Park Music help keep us grounded with this ode to accepting the world we have.

45. Tar & Flowers - This Machine

A thoughtful folk song that summons the living spirit of Bob Dylan in its eloquence and elevated writing.

46. Elohim - Fuck Your Money

One of the year's best dirty pop songs with an eternally relevant message.

47. Interpol - The Rover

Interpol return with a straight-up post-apocalyptic rocker that make guitars sound necessary again.

48. Barbarossa - Don't Enter Fear

Gorgeous harmonies give an ethereal quality to this somber piece of indie pop.

49. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Wonderful Day for the Race

Boston ska heroes return with a horn-filled, uplifting ode to the best of humanity.

50. Rare Americans - Cats, Dogs & Rats

A rabble-rousing, scuzzy punk singalong with an irresistible chorus.

BEST OF THE REST (in alphabetical order):

Adam Sandler - Farley

Albert Hammond Jr. - Far Away Truths

American Aquarium - Tough Folks

Anamon - Iron Bill

Bear Hands - Back Seat Driver (Spirit Guide)

Big Red Machine - Gratitude

Bob Schneider - Blood and Bones

Big Mother Gig - Alvarado

Blue October - How to Dance in Time

Boygenius - Me & My Dog

Chance the Rapper - Work Out

Charlie Fink - My Heartbeat Lost Its Rhythm

Childish Gambino - Feels Like Summer

Chris Cornell - When Bad Does Good

Cloud Nothings - Offer an End

Cornershop - Double Denim


Damien Jurado - Over Rainbows and Rainier

Dan Romer - Annie and Owen

Dave Matthews Band - Idea of You

Deer Tick - Hey! Yeah!

Descendents - Who We Are

Dude York - What Would You Do If You Had Some Money Now?

ELEL - Tequila

Fall Out Boy - Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)

Fat Tony - Got it Out the Mud

Femi Kuti - Na Their Way Be That

Four Fists - 6666

The Get Up Kids - I'm Sorry

Goodbye Blue Monday - Misery-Punk Ruined My Life

The Go! Team - Chico's Radical Decade

Great Lake Swimmers - Side Effects

Hinds - Tester

The Hold Steady - Eureka

Hop Along - Prior Things

Jack White - Over and Over and Over

Jade Bird - Uh Huh

James Bay - Pink Lemonade

Jay Rock - Win

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - London is Burning

John Doe - Comequando

John Nolan - Half a Block to Go

Kacey Musgraves - Space Cowboy

Kamasi Washington - Fists of Fury

Keegan DeWitt - Hearts Beat Loud (feat. Kiersey Clemons)

Keenan - Mahattan (feat. Marc E. Bassy & Skizzy Mars)

King Tuff - Psycho Star

The Knocks - Shades

The Kooks - All the Time

Lagartija Nick - Strummer/Lorca

Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers - Apocalypse Now (& Later)

Lauren Ruth Ward - Well, Hell

Lauv - Chasing Fire

The Living End - Otherside

The Love-Birds - Hit My Head

LSD - Thunderclouds

Lucero - Bottom of the Sea

Lucius - Tempest

Macy Gray - Cold World

Matt Costa - Sharon

MGMT - When You Die

Milo Greene - Worth the Wait

More Giraffes - Dinosaur

Moscow Apartment - Orange

The Motorleague - Everyone is Digital

Mt. Joy - Jenny Jenkins

Murs - Powerful (feat. Propaganda)

New Found Glory - 20 Years from Now

The Night Game - Summerland

Novo Amor - Birth Place

Open Mike Eagle - Relatable (peak OME)

Ozomatli - Coming War

Panic! at the Disco - Dying in LA

Paul McCartney - I Don't Know

Paul Weller - Aspects

Quinn Devlin & The Bridge Street Kings - Answer Me

Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Matchbox

Rat Boy - Internationally Unknown

Razorlight - Japanrock

Rivers Cuomo - Medicine for Melancholy

Rod Stewart - Didn't I (feat. Bridget Cady)

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Talking Straight

Ruston Kelly - Asshole (demo)

Salt Cathedral - Rude Boy

Shannon and the Clams - The Boy

Sloan - Right to Roam

Sparta - Cat Scream

Sting & Shaggy - 44/876

Strung Out - Town of Corazon

The Struts - In Love With a Camera

The Tallest Man on Earth - Forever is a Very Long Time

Tash Sultana - Blackbird

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - Chienowa (feat. Kazunobu Mineta)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Keep a Little Soul

Trampled by Turtles - Thank You, John Steinbeck

The War and Treaty - Healing Tide

Waxahatchee - Slow You Down

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