In January, I went to Norway for an Arctic science and policy conference, one of the best weeks of my graduate career and my life. I pursued stories in Alaska and back in Minneapolis, interviewed people all over the world about the arts in a changing Arctic, worked for Nature Conservancy magazine, graduated with my master’s degree, visited San Francisco for the first time in seven years, photographed live shows, interviewed Kimbra on the phone (!!!), finally saw Dessa perform live, took my best friend to her first ever indie show (Wye Oak), started a new full-time job, moved within town, visited New York for an arts and climate change workshop, travelled to Germany and the UK for work, saw Reinhardt Buhr perform on the street in Berlin, and most recently, found myself back in Washington, D.C. for work – where I saw The Japanese House live. I made many new life-long connections, visited old friends, and lost my grandpa in the spring. It’s been an amazing and difficult year, in so many ways. But through it all, as always, there has been great new music. And that’s the one thing I hope never changes.
Top Albums of 2018
1. Castles, Lissie
2. Saved, Now Now
3. For Ever, Jungle
4. Hundred Acres, S. Carey
5. Lavender, Half Waif
6. Fine But Dying, Liza Anne
7. Us, Empress Of
8. At Weddings, Tomberlin
9. Primal Heart, Kimbra
10. I Wasn't Only Thinking About You..., Oh Pep!
Every single song on this album is a powerhouse, a display of Lissie’s determined talent, and an emotional wrecking ball. I’ve listened to it all the way through at home alone, in the car, on planes, on buses and on the metro. I’ve listened to it with my mouth shut and I’ve sung along so loudly I’m sure people outside my car could have heard. It’s like Lissie looked at my life and made an album about where I am right now, and at the same time, made an album about the universal experiences of life and love. She pleads and begs, declares and draws a line, proclaims and ponders, and hopes out loud so hard it hurts. For this Midwesterner, “Boyfriend” rings true like no other, “Blood and Muscle” gets under my skin every time, and “Somewhere,” “Love Blows,” and “What Am I Gonna Do” are a homerun of heartache. But like she sings, I believe the best days for Lissie are still to come. I just have to work on the part where I believe the same for myself.
Now Now, Saved
Now, Now has fully embraced indie pop with Saved, a strong departure from Threads' lo-fi, alternative and indie rock influences. There's nothing like the epic ending of "Magnet" on this release, no heavy jams like those of "Thread" or emotional bedroom rock sessions of "But I Do." Instead, "SGL" announces Now, Now 2.0, with Dalager's same scratchy, subdued vocals embedded in bright, upbeat pop, catchy indie rock choruses, and songs about love that was young, dumb and worth it. Yet there's nothing cheesy, Top-40, or unoriginal about it. It's indie pop and rock in the style of Dalager and Hale, six years older, wiser and wanting it all.
Jungle, For Ever
This London ensemble continues to revive the vibes of Earth, Wind and Fire through groovy, delectable tunes full of soul and energy in their second studio album, For Ever. I saw them perform live in Boulder, Colorado in October and danced so hard to "Heavy, California" and their first big single, "Busy Earnin'" that I almost collapsed (the altitude here has robbed me of my cardio endurance). This whole album is full of amazing work, from the bass-heavy "Beat 54 (All Good Now)" to the self-affirming "Cherry" and the easygoing "Casio." Take time to give this release a full through listen, and make room to dance.
S. Carey, Hundred Acres
I remember the exact moment I first heard “Fool’s Gold,” and lost my breath: in my car, turning right onto Folsom off Pearl, on my way to work at Nature Conservancy magazine in mid-spring. Thanks to Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir station (similar concept to MPR’s The Current), S. Carey’s music re-entered my life that day. I had written him off for some time for being too sentimental, too quiet, too folksy for me. And with my apathy toward Bon Iver over time, I wasn’t expecting to become so enamored with his latest release. I didn’t even know he was releasing a new album, that’s how unaware I was. But when that song came on the radio, my heart stopped, and my brain froze that moment in memory forever. I listened to the rest of the available singles immediately when I got to work and the full album became a staple for the rest of the year.
Half Waif, Lavender
Plunkett is on par with prolific and dynamic songwriters and performers as Emily Haines, Caitlin Pasko, My Brightest Diamond, St. Vincent, Fiona Apple and Mitski. Her band's agility and mastery of acoustic and electronic elements brings her to an even higher level. Together, the words, sounds, and performance of Lavender are being noticed--by NPR, by Paste, Pitchfork and more--and deservedly so. But the intimacy with which Half Waif has buried into my own being will always be there. It's the kind of thing that happens when I first listen to a band on my own, and get to see them live at a small venue like Larimer Lounge. But it's a rare and special circumstance when an artist so aligned with my favorite style of music making comes into my life, with an album that I needed at just the right time. For in telling her own story, Plunkett has helped me understand and navigate my own. And now Half Waif is an essential part of the story, too.
Liza Anne, Fine But Dying
I found out about Liza Anne through an email. And although I couldn’t cover her show, I discovered one of my absolute favorite artists of 2018, and for life. Her lead single “Paranoia,” is actually one of my least favorite on the album, but that’s just because I love so many of the other tracks much more. There is truly something about her voice, her lyrics, and the instrumental compositions on this album that finds a home in me, somewhere I don’t visit often. She rocks and jams on “Socks” and then achingly croons on “Control,” mastering multiple sub-genres with ease. If I found myself frustrated I would tune in to “I Love You But I Need Another Year,” and if needed to cry myself to sleep, I sought out “I’m Tired, You’re Lonely,” hearing a slightly different version each time. It’s a funny thing, that for music I mostly listen to when I’m upset, I am so happy to have it.
Empress Of, Us
This songstress is a form of genius, mixing Spanish and English seamlessly throughout the album and within individual songs -- all while demonstrating her ability to make infectious, electronic dance/pop music. Us follows her first release, Me, and they make a beautiful pair: no sophomore slump here. Check out "Just the Same" for an uplifting song that will never leave your brain or body, "I've Got Love," for the a song that'll make you feel like you're in your own movie montage, and "When I'm With Him" for a heavy heartache done in the best way.
Tomberlin, At Weddings
There are albums that make the top ten you tell everyone about, to relate to other people, so they can know you better. I often name bands like Radiohead, Sylvan Esso, Elliott Smith, and (old) Coldplay. And there are albums you put in a different kind of top ten: the ones that help you relate to yourself, so you can know yourself better. This past year has been full of Phoebe Bridgers, Sylvan Esso, Overcoats, Typhoon, Half Waif, Dessa, Kimbra, Lissie, Liza Anne, Mimicking Birds, Bad Bad Hats, S. Carey and Now, Now. But again and again and again, it has returned to Tomberlin and her twice released At Weddings.
Kimbra, Primal Heart
Alright, I’m just going to say it. I think this is Kimbra’s best album. I love (love love love) her very first release, but I’ve listened to her grow and experiment and evolve, and Primal Heart is the glorious culmination of all of it. Perhaps I’m biased – I did get to interview her on the phone, and photograph her live show – but Kimbra truly is one of the most self-aware, collaborative-conscious, and productive artists working today. She thinks holistically in her shows, considering not just the music, but the lights, the fashion, the set design, and how they all fit together for an experience greater than the sum of the parts. She’s already reimagined her work from this album, stretching the music and herself in the process. But this album is brilliant on its own, a genuine manifestation of hard work and experience. What still blows my mind is that she and I are the same age.
Oh Pep! I Wasn't Only Thinking About You...
When I heard "What's the deal with David?" on the radio, and found out who the artist was, I couldn't believe I had forgotten about this duo for so long! Oh Pep!'s new album is dynamite, ranging from upbeat, symphonic pop to the gorgeous simplicity of acoustic guitar and harmonic vocals, like on "Parallel." They explore unique storylines in "Your Nail and Your Hammer" and the boundaries of love in "Asking For." Don't miss this Australian pair of musical masterminds who will make you feel things you forgot you could.
Layers of Us, Mimicking Birds
Lightning Round, Bad Bad Hats
Magic Gone, Petal
A Million and One, My Brightest Diamond
Battle Lines, Bob Moses
Lush, Snail Mail
Premonitions, Miya Folick
Be the Cowboy, Mitski
Snail Mail, Lush
This year was a big one for young female singer-songwriters, with Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and many others on tour, dominating news cycles, and working on exciting new projects. But there are certain band names in their genre like Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail that just immediately turn me off; something too cliché or unoriginal to me just doesn’t ring true. Especially when the images of the singer’s face are a half-stoned gaze, posted on everything. There are so many more bands with names and styles like these fronted or completely composed of men, so when non-male rockers do this stuff, it frustrates me double. Because of that, I almost completely wrote off Snail Mail. Then I heard “Heat Wave” on the radio in November. And for her alone, I have done a 180. Lush has since belatedly become one of my favorite albums of the year, even if I’m still not a fan of the album cover.
Miya Folick, Premonitions
This Los Angeles based musician is an unsung hero of indie, blending folk, rock and pop into a magical concoction full of lush layers. Check out the title track for a great example of how her vocals, lyrics and instrumentals intertwine with ease. And she's not afraid to get funky and experimental on tracks like "Leave the Party" and "Freak Out." She's got a power anthem in "Deadbody" and a sparkling, gracious soundtrack in "Thingamajig." You likely haven't heard of her until now, but that's not an excuse for why you shouldn't.
More great albums from 2018:
The Louder I Call, The Faster it Runs, Wye Oak
Make it Happen, John Splithoff
Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, The Wombats
forever & ever, SALES
I Need to Start a Garden, Haley Heynderickx
Beacon, Superhuman Happiness
Unwind, Yasmin Williams
Oceanic, Niklas Paschburg
Dirty Computer, Janelle Monae
Night Flight, Night Flight
Rising, Lynn O'Brien
Hell-On, Neko Case
Top EPs of 2018
Boygenius EP, Boygenius
The Little Album, Tacky Annie
II, So Below
Let Yourself Go, Haley Blais
Nothing with Remain, Extravision
Bad Habit, Your Smith
took a while, Neil Frances
Boygenius, Boygenius EP
This supergroup of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus has melded the best of the best with their new EP. I'm preferential to the vocals of Bridgers and Dacus, but it's a bit of find your favorite for everyone.
The Little Album, Tacky Annie
This new duo of Rachelle LaNae and Andrew Frederick is addictive, playful and inspiring. They've got an unabashed appreciation for folk and pop, although they both formally studied music performance. Combining the best of both worlds--Rachelle's classical focus and Andrew's jazz grooves--Tacky Annie is taking the Twin Cities by storm.
Top Songs of 2018
"Yellowstone," S. Carey
"Fool's Gold," S. Carey
"Back in Brooklyn," Half Waif
“I Love You But I Need Another Year,” Liza Anne
“I'm Tired, You're Lonely,” Liza Anne
"I've Got Love," Empress Of
"Top of the World," Kimbra
"Fire Drills," Dessa
"I'm Not Scared," Tomberlin
"Excuse Me," Meghan Trainor
"Love Somebody with a Face Like Yours," DENNY
"Still Alive," Half Alive
"Premonitions," Miya Folick
"Slow Dancers," Mitski
"Back Down," Bob Moses
"Renegade Energy," Tacky Annie
"Bite the Hand," Boygenius
"MJ," Now Now
"Yours," Now Now
"SGL," Now Now
"Me on the Dance Floor," My Brightest Diamond
"Hands on Me," LEVV
"Small Foreign Faction," Haley Blais
"What's the Deal with David?" Oh Pep!
"Parallel," Oh Pep!
"The Way you Make Me Feel," Janelle Monae
"Heat Wave," Snail Mail
"Parade," Night Flight
"Journey Among Worlds," Niklas Paschburg
"Oceanic," Niklas Paschburg
"Dust Layers," Mimicking Birds
"Sunlight Daze," Mimicking Birds
"Write it On Your Heart," Bad Bad Hats
"Magic Gone," Petal
Best Shows of 2018
Jungle and Neil Frances, Boulder Theater, Boulder, Colorado
Now Now at Globe Hall, Denver, Colorado
The Japanese House, Rock and Rock Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Kimbra, Bluebird Theater, Denver, Colorado
Phoebe Bridgers, Gothic Theater, Denver, Colorado
Half Waif, Larimer Lounge, Denver, Colorado
Sylvan Esso, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Colorado
Dessa and MONAKR, Bluebird Theater
Kiltro at The Walnut Room, Denver, Colorado
Bad Bad Hats, Hi-Dive, Denver, Colorado
Mansionair and Bob Moses, Bluebird Theater
Wye Oak, Bluebird Theater
Haley Heynderickx and Mimicking Birds, Syntax Physic Opera, Denver
Typhoon and Mimicking Birds, Gothic Theater
Indie Shuffle: Kimbra Tours Primal Heart With Odesza And Son Lux
Bearded Gentlemen Music: Dedicated Fans Sell Out Dessa’s ‘Chime’ Tour in Denver
Bandsintown: Mimicking Birds Bring Their 2018 Tour To Denver, in support of their latest release, 'Layers of Us'.
The Aural Premonition:
A year with Tomberlin
Words With: Tancred
Review: Now, Now show signs of life with Saved
Half Waif, Lavender
Words With: Owain Gwilym and the Music of Melting Glaciers
Premiere: Casey Dubie, "Wine"
Words With: Moglebaum
Music News: Four Twin Cities Artists You Need to Know (Lynn O'Brien, Andy Cook, Jennie Lawless, Tacky Annie)
Bad Bad Hats at the HiDive
Wye Oak at Bluebird Theater
Kimbra at Bluebird Theater
Half Waif at Larimer Lounge
Most exciting upcoming releases in 2019
The Japanese House (LP)