Difficult times ignite the best rock-n-roll and 2018 proved to be one of the best years for music this century. The world may be facing an environmental and societal collapse but at least the guitars and amps are going down swinging. Here are ten albums that shook me to my core, made me question everything, and then left me full of hope for what tomorrow will bring.
Astonishing. Sunflower Bean strike a match and burn down all expectations of what a young rock-n-roll band is capable of in the age of accelerated everything. “Crisis Fest” is the call-to-arms anthem for a new generation while “Twentytwo” shimmers with melodic grace. Sunflower Bean have given us an album in the classic sense where every song feels vital to the listening experience. The hints of Blondie, Fleetwood Mac, and even a dash of Mazzy Star don’t sound the least bit derivative. Last week, they released “Come For Me”, a new single that proves that Twentytwo in Blue is far from a fluke. For those of us that still seek truth in the grooves of a record, Sunflower Bean are the year’s best example of why we still believe rock-n-roll can save the world.
Pugnacious but positive. Political but personal. Vicious but vulnerable. IDLES bring a new dynamic to punk music that embodies the socio-political climate of 2018. Dismantling the attitudes that drive masculinity into dangerous alleys looking for fights, IDLES sound even tougher as a result. A perfect song for our times, “Danny Nedelko” neatly maps out the path of humanity in recent years:3.
“Fear leads to panic, panic leads to pain. Pain leads to anger, anger leads to hate.”
Joy as an Act of Resistance throws a molotov cocktail of hope and compassion at the angry mob and refuses to back down.
It has been over thirty years since Cowboy Junkies took over our college dorm rooms with the alt-country masterpiece The Trinity Session. While they have never stopped touring or recording, this year’s All That Reckoning brought deserved attention with sold-out shows from London to New York City. Offering a seasoned outlook on the world’s affairs, they ultimately arrive at the same place as the brash, young IDLES, most notably on “The Things We Do To Each Other”:
“Fear is not so far from hate, so if you get the folks to fear
It only takes one small twist, to kick it up a gear.”
Having maintained their artistic integrity over three decades, All That Reckoning ranks with their finest albums. Margo Timmins’ smoldering voice holds us mesmerized as the band’s haunted atmosphere shifts around us. Hiding any promise of hope deep within the lyrics, Cowboy Junkies leave it to the listener to make sense of the world around us.
A post-punk band fueled by queer politics and an aversion to capitalism creates of the most danceable and upbeat albums of the year. While you unpack that sentence, I’ll be dancing to “The Hype” happily waiting for the world to end. Reminiscent of The Slits and Gang of Four in that they make their points without yelling in your face about it, Shopping and producer Edwin Collins allow the music plenty of space to breathe. The bass lines keep you glued to the dance floor while guitarist Rachel Aggs delivers an impressive array of taut riffs.
5. The Joy Formidable – Aaarth
Opener “Y Bluen Eira” ushers in a new phase of The Joy Formidable where the industrial meets the melodic. The album is both the heaviest album they have ever released and the most intimate. Having only recently begun fully exploring the sonic caves of Aaarth, it will probably be the most played album of 2018 in the new year for me.
6. Ike Reilly – Crooked Love
Reilly ages like expensive whiskey. His lyrics still burn but his music has smoothed out some of its rougher edges. The result finds him walking between Frank Turner and Bruce Springsteen as a troubadour of truth.
7. Robyn – Honey
Returning after eight years, Robyn wisely allows Honey plenty of space to breathe on its own. This isn’t Body Talk Pt. 3 and it is far better as a result. Pulled back arrangements still sound like the future of disco but Robyn’s own emotions are the heartbeat of Honey.
8. Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises
If I write Taylor Swift raised on The Cure, can I trust you to listen? Capturing the tidal pull of teenage emotion, Pale Waves keep it honest with songs that soar even when a heart is breaking. There isn’t a lot of young bands that can pull this off and Pale Waves make it seem effortless. Giving them bonus points for a really lovely cover of “Last Christmas” by Wham! that is available on Spotify.
9. Magic Dance – New Eyes
A sinful delight of 80s nostalgia that never feels forced. I reviewed it here last week.
10. Ought – Room Inside the World
Fearless post-punk. They sound like every band I wish I ever played in.