By Biff Hust. “If I woke up tomorrow morning with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.” This is what I kept thinking over and over in November 2016. Now I just repeat the title of my favorite album thirty years ago over and over on a loop: “Nothing’s Shocking.” So it’s no surprise to me that my favorite album of the year consists of loops and samples and repeated mantras all done in an abstract, beautifully disjointed and raw style. Earl Sweatshirt’s opus Some Rap Songs is a combination of the brevity, simplicity, and focus of punk rock and the other worldly, spontaneity and mystical qualities of good jazz. Since this album came out it has been on a loop when I’m in the car by myself; I also put Jeff Tweedy on every now and then to come out of the cold, introspective world Earl creates only to enter a warmer yet just as introspective one Tweedy creates. Both of these albums capture my mood and the palpable yet jaded angst I sense in our society today. These albums are one and two for me this year. Earl gets the slight nod just because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard yet so compelling to listen to. I’ve been singing Jeff Tweedy’s praises for years now and finally feel vindicated that people love his “first” official solo album.
I listened to a ton of rap music this year and I wrestle with whether that is appropriate or not. On one hand it seems silly for a 43-year-old white male to be bumping Vince Staples. Maybe that is why I’m drawn to it so much this year; it’s a giant FUCK YOU! To the 43-year-old and older white males destroying our country. The simple fact is I grew up listening to hip-hop and that has not changed to this day. I’m reading the Beastie Boys Book and I have taken solace in relating to white guys who love hip-hop and it not being cultural appropriation and just appreciation.
My favorite musical trend was the short rap album and short rap song. My favorite rap this year reminded me very much of punk rock and I am loving it. Some Rap Songs is 15 songs in 25 minutes. FM is 11 songs in 22 minutes. All of Kanye’s releases were seven songs long. With that being said, rap had a great year. There were many good hip-hop releases this year but my seven favorite rap albums not named Some Rap Songs were:
FM by Vince Staples is a throwback to great West Coast rap. Hard-hitting street wisdom, Vince continues to impress with each release.
Care For Me by Saba is the best example of honest, emotional rap. He wrote this in the wake of losing his cousin and it is a great outlet for his grief.
Paraffin by Armand Hammer is a gritty underground album by two very talented lyricists. It reminds of a modern day Liquid Swords, which is saying a lot because that is my favorite solo Wu-Tang release of all time.
Black Panther Soundtrack – All of what Spencer said … Kendrick seems to be able to do no wrong.
Kids See Ghosts – Now I cannot stand Kanye West the person or how he portrays himself in the public eye; I could not disagree more with most of his views on politics and celebrity and used to not care much about his current artistic output until this year. Kanye’s production on all his releases this year was off the charts; I love the soul samples and beats and for some reason the positivity and grit of the lyrics on this one resonate deep in my soul. I probably listened to this album more than any other one this year, especially soundtracking my couch to 5k jogging program (keep movin’ forward!).
Streams Of Thought Volumes 1 and 2 by Black Thought continue to showcase The Roots MC as one of the best to ever do it. His flow and content is unparalleled today. See this if you need any more proof of that:
Daytona by Pusha T is another Kanye-produced masterpiece. This album soundtracked my summer drives and “If You Know You Know” is one of the greatest Track #1s I’ve heard in a long time!
The other musical trend I found myself returning to this year time and again was female-fronted indie rock. Snail Mail wins album of the year in this category. This came out the day I found out Anthony Bourdain had died and the album was a balm for my chapped soul. I don’t know why Bourdain’s death hit me so hard, but it did and Snail Mail was there to comfort me. Again, I don’t know why a 43-year-old white male connects so much to an 18-year-old female singer but all I know is I do and I’m better off for it.
Boygenius was another great record of 2018 and was probably my most anticipated one after hearing the first single. Each one of these ladies is great as solo artists but together they created something magical. The rare instance where a super group was better than the individuals that make it up.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog by Hop Along was an album that came out early this year that stayed in rotation all year long. I feel like this sounds like the best qualities of Pavement and the added strings really provide texture to an already great band.
The Great Thunder EP by Waxahatchee is a set of previous songs Katie Crutchfield had recorded but stripped down and mostly on piano. These peeled back versions reveal what a great songwriter Ms. Crutchfield is. Side note: she opened for Jawbreaker and performed as a duet with Blake and sang “Ache” during Jawbreaker’s set.
7 by Beach House was my favorite fuzzed-out spacey jam of the year. I like everything these guys put out. I put this one on when I just want to vibe out and get lost for a while.
Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves is not like the other female ones I’ve mentioned but it is by far the smoothest. This album is just great songs sung by a great voice. This album definitely has a calming effect on me. It’s also great driving music.
The final album worth mentioning that doesn’t fit into the above categories is Freedom by Amen Dunes. I always have to have one-word album titles in my favorites. “Freedom” is such an encompassing word and Damon McMahon uses that theme to create ten transcendent songs. Where Earl Sweatshirt raps, “Stuck in Trumpland, watching subtlety decaying,” Amen Dunes is showcasing subtlety and beauty in opposition to this current oppression.