2018: The Music That Meant The Most To Me This Year

by Ken DiTomaso

Honourable Mentions

Grateful Dead – Pacific Northwest '73-'74: Believe It If You Need It

This is the Grateful Dead at the absolute peak of their powers. If you’re a Dead fan, you need this. If you’re a Dead skeptic, this could be the set that converts you. Sublime performances from start to finish.

Albert Hammond Jr. – Francis Trouble

A solid album of to-the-point, no-frills rock tunes. He’s best known as the guitar player for The Strokes, but if I’m honest, I think I’ve enjoyed this solo album significantly more than the last few Strokes records.

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. – Glamping

One of my favorite songwriters and keyboardists thanks to his numerous great projects (chief among them power pop masters Jellyfish), Manning put out two excellent solo albums in the mid-2000s, but in the years since he’s focused on session work and touring with acts like Beck. This four-song EP marks his first official solo release in 10 years, and while it’s a shame that it’s so short, the songs retain the same charming pop songwriting sensibilities that have always endeared me to his music. I hope a full album is on the way soon.

Yes – Fly From Here – Return Trip

One of the better late-period Yes albums is given significant facelift with a new mix and new vocals. Trevor Horn’s voice adds a lot to the material, and the new mix blows the old one out of the water. I’m often skeptical when a band wants to go back and “fix” an older album by drastically changing it, but this is one case where the improvements are worth it.

The Dean Ween Group – rock2

A slightly underwhelming record since there are only a handful of proper new songs on here, with much of the album being taken up with pseudo-instrumentals, rare songs newly recorded, and other leftovers. Still, nobody rocks as hard as Dean Ween can, and this album kicks a ton of ass. As a dyed-in-the-wool Ween fan I am willing to follow Deaner down any musical path he sees fit to explore.

Brockhampton – Iridescence

It doesn’t reach the heights of last year’s Saturation trilogy, but it’s still a solid effort for a group searching for new directions and dealing with newfound success.

10. Asturias – Across The Ridge To Heaven

Asturias are a Japanese progressive rock/modern classical hybrid act that have been out there for several decades now quietly releasing beautiful and diverse instrumental music. The pieces on this album are tightly composed and well-performed with a variety of different instruments coming into play (lots of violins and clarinets for instance). Every year I tend to latch on to some instrumental album that I can put on in the background while I’m doing other things, and this album fit really nicely into that role.
9. Thought Gang – Thought Gang

David Lynch finally released an album he’d been sitting on for years, and it turned out to be one of the most effective collections of music in his career. He and collaborator Angelo Badalamenti create eerie dissonant jazz that goes so far out there on certain songs that it genuinely feels like post-rock. I’m reminded a lot of bands like Talk Talk and Godspeed You! Black Emperor when listening to this. If this had been released in the early ‘90s as was originally intended, it could have been a pioneering record in the experimental rock scene of the time. Alas, it was shelved until now, but the quality still shines through.
8. Sophie – Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides

Swinging widely from intensely intimate whispers to grating buzzing and whirring, this album contains some of the most aggressively weird sound manipulation you’ll hear anywhere. The music sounds metallic and industrial like it’s being assembled (or perhaps dismantled) by robots in a factory while you’re in the process of listening to it. Sophie pushes the idea of what “pop” is to its limits in fascinating ways. It’s an album that I’ve struggled to get my head around, but that keeps me coming back to it, even just to wonder how the heck Sophie created this twisted cacophony.



7. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts  /  Kanye West – Ye

2018 was a weird year for Kanye West, but he’s been on a creative tear producing multiple albums and singles both for himself as well as friends and collaborators. The quality of these projects has been all over the map, but the best of the bunch were these two short albums released only a week apart from one another. On Ye, Kanye opens up about his mental health in a surprisingly intimate manner, and on Kids See Ghosts, he works with frequent collaborator Kid Cudi for a hybrid of hip-hop and rock that they actually manage to pull off really well. Both records are only 23 minutes long, so I’ll often listen to them back to back, treating them as if they’re two sides of one album. As a pair, they’re easily my favorite projects Kanye has been a part of since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

6. MGMT – Little Dark Age

MGMT is a band I’ve long been on the fence with. Sometimes their music works for me, and other times it doesn’t. But Little Dark Age really comes together in a way that their previous records didn’t, and to my ears is the best album the band has put out so far. If you’re in need of some moody synth-pop with eerie lyrics, look no further. Little Dark Age is a well-rounded record in every department.

5. The Lemon Twigs – Go To School

A wacky rock opera about a monkey with a vintage aesthetic. The Lemon Twigs strikes a unique balance between sounding straight out of the ‘70s and straight out of their parent’s basement. I love a band with ambition and The Lemon Twigs went all-out here. They even recruited Todd Rundgren for some guest vocals, and this disc resembles Todd’s wild yet soulful stylings more than a little bit. It’s a long album with more material than can be easily digested in one go, which is great for repeated listens. This release brings me back to the days when I would listen to rock operas like Tommy or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (both of which surely must have influenced this album), pouring over the liner notes following along with the story.


4. Kero Kero Bonito – Time 'N' Place

KKB may have started out as a synth-pop trio, but with their sophomore record, they’ve expanded into a full rock band with great results. They’ve still got the charming melodies and the quirky arrangements that made their debut so great, but this time around they add in influences of psychedelic rock and experimental music. This album packs in hard rock, dream pop, campfire singalongs, and sound collages in barely more than half an hour. Their debut album was delightful, but it made me concerned that they might be a one-trick pony, but this follow-up showed me that my fears were unfounded. I can’t wait to see where they go from here.


3. Death Grips – Year Of The Snitch

This album is every bit as intense and uncompromising as we’ve come to expect from Death Grips, but I continue to be impressed with how they push their sound in new directions. This release has more guitars and live drums than usual for them, which makes them sound more like a band playing together than ever before. But at other points, the band sounds completely fresh and unique with songs packed with head-spinning effects and sudden shifts that take me by surprise every time I hear them. I’ve been listening to these guys long enough that their extremely abrasive sound no longer shocks me, but their ability to come up with compelling material this far into their discography is pretty remarkable.


2. Phish – Kasvot Växt: í rokk

Phish pranked their entire fanbase this year at their traditional Halloween show by announcing that instead of covering a well-known classic-rock album, they would be performing an obscure album by a Scandinavian band called Kasvot Växt. This turned out to be an elaborate gag involving leaked texts, misdirected fans, planted websites, and a playbill that extensively detailed the fake band’s history. Performing under a pseudonym is a time-honored tradition in rock music. Much like how the Beatles put on the mask of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or like how XTC disguised themselves as The Dukes Of Stratosphear, taking on a novel new persona allowed Phish to create songs from a different perspective. And the funny thing was, in their attempt at being a different band they came up with their most Phishy batch of new tunes in years: silly yet endlessly quotable lyrics, instantly memorable sing-along hooks, killer riffs, great grooves, and tons of jam potential. Plus, the goofy lore of Kasvot Växt instantly gives Phish fans a whole new batch of running jokes and references to play with. Undoubtedly these songs will likely get even better once they’re integrated into the band’s regular shows and they’ve had time to grow and change as they’re performed more. But these debut performances, coupled with the great visual presentation (the all-white set design was killer, I recommend looking up the video) make this one of the most memorable events in the band’s history.


1. Andrew W.K. – You're Not Alone

This is the record I always hoped Andrew W.K. had in him. It combines his talent for making epic overblown rock songs with his career-turn into a self-help figurehead for causes like the power of positive thinking, mental health awareness, and suicide prevention. This record is extremely direct and intimate with lyrics that cut deep to universal truths that people who are having problems in their lives (especially young people) need to be reminded of. These lyrics are perfectly matched to W.K.'s bombastic, larger than life music because when you’re really struggling with something painful, that pain feels larger than life too. This record is like a hundred therapy sessions crammed into 50 minutes. You’re Not Alone is pure catharsis from start to finish. Even if you’re not in the mood for its message, it’s still one of the most kickass rock albums released this decade. The hooks are super catchy, the production is thick and layered, and the flow of the album is terrific, too. But at the end of the day, it's the overwhelming emotional power that this album has that makes it truly special.

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