Best albums of 2018: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Friday, November 23rd everyone! Black Friday, to boot. And happy belated Thanksgiving to our American friends!

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The best of the year lists are going to start pouring in from all over. It was actually around this time last year that I kicked off my Best Albums series with an end of the year list for 2017. I then travelled back in time through the decades, with stops at 2007, 1997, and finally, 1987 (you can find all of these completed lists here). It was a fun exercise and I’ll endeavour to do the same over the next year, starting with this 2018 list.

The drill is this. You’ll get albums ten through six, a sort of honourable mentions collection, today, and then, I’ll run through my top five albums of the year over the next five Fridays. If all goes well, the number one album will be revealed on the final Friday of the year.

For 2018, you’ll likely find that my list won’t resemble many of the lists from the real music sites. In fact, if you’re hoping for spoilers in the photo at the top of this post, you’ll be disappointed. None of those albums will appear in this series. As I get older, I find my tastes don’t line up as often with what is hip and new. I did check out a few of the buzz bands and some of them were quite good (hello, Shame and Starcrawler), just not top ten good in my opinion. And well, the ten albums that will make up this list may not be everyone else’s best. But they’re mine.

As always, I welcome hearing your own favourites and thoughts on my choices in the comments section of each post.

Let’s get started…


#10 David Byrne “American utopia”

To be honest, the only reason this album made this list at all is because I got to see the former Talking Heads frontman this fall at Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. I had only given “American utopia” a cursory glance prior to the festival and wasn’t even sure I would stay for his whole set because of a scheduling conflict with another artist but I was glad, in the end, that I did. His was probably one of my favourite sets in recent years and I’ve been listening to this album regularly ever since, it growing in my esteem with each play. Yes, it’s varied in sound but not in theme. For his first solo album in fourteen years, Byrne is as fresh and quirky and intelligent as he ever has been.

Gateway tune: Everybody’s coming to my house


#9 James “Living in extraordinary times”

As some of you may undoubtedly already know, I’ve been a pretty big James fan for a couple of decades now but the appearance of their fifteenth (!!!) studio album here has nothing to do with loyalty. In fact, I wasn’t much of a fan of their last album, 2016’s “Girl at the end of the world”, as a whole, disagreeing with a bunch of people who made it the band’s highest charting album to date. “Living in extraordinary times” is at times as big as the best of James’s hit singles but it also has its quiet moments. At its core, though, it’s an album that has Tim Booth and band trying to find a forward in these crazy times, with more than a few nods and kicks at the current US president.

Gateway tune: Coming home (pt. 2)


#8 The Limiñanas “Shadow people”

Okay. So I had never heard of this band before this year. I don’t even remember how I originally came across their sixth studio album, “Shadow people”, but i know it hooked me from the beginning. It took some doing to figure out what they were about, including reading a Wikipedia entry written in French. My French is improving but far from perfect. Still, I was able to ascertain that they are a duo, Lionel and Marie, indeed from France, that were performing in other groups for many years, before forming The Liminanas in 2009. This latest album checked a lot of my boxes with its droning and driving psychedelia and then mixing it with laid back and cool Serge Gainsbourg sounds. That it includes contributions by Anton Newcombe and Peter Hook is just topping on the cake. I can’t wait to dig into their earlier work.

Gateway tune: Istanbul is sleepy


#7 The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”

For a band that hasn’t worked together in over a decade and an album whose players reside in three different states, The Essex Green and their fourth studio album, “Hardly electronic”, sound pretty slick indeed. I got into this group after seeing them open for Camera Obscura in 2007 and bought their album “Cannibal sea” based on their performance. I have now been salivating while listening to that album and waiting over eleven years for new material. Now that’s in my hands and spinning on my turntable, I am not disappointed in the least. They picked up the 60s and 70s inspired indie pop right where they left it and they quite possibly might have improved on their sound in the intervening years. Hopefully, it’s not another decade before we get album number five.

Gateway tune: The 710


#6 Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”

Who is this Colter Wall? He definitely does not sound of this time and place, singing somber and slow-burning numbers about the plight of the plainsmen in the 1800s and the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. Amazing, then, that this kid is but 23 and hails from Saskatchewan, Canada. It was my brother Mike that alerted me to him when he saw his name on the lineup for Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. His was definitely one of the highlight sets of the festival for me. Not only are his songs well written and of a different sensibility in today’s pop world but Wall has a voice that has been compared to the likes of Johnny Cash, though I for one would say it is even more profound than that. This is his sophomore album and builds upon the fantastic work laid out on last year’s fine debut. I think we’ll be hearing lots from him in the coming years.

Gateway tune: Saskatchewan in 1881


Check back next Friday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2007: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Back at the end of 2017, I counted down my favourite albums of the year in a weekly series that culminated with me posting words about my #1 favourite album on the final Friday of the year. In the initial post for that series, I hinted that I might continue to intersperse my favourite tune posts with a few more of these ‘best album’ series over the course of this year. I figured that the first day of February was as good a day as any to start off the first of what I hope will become many such series.

For starters, I’ve travelled back a decade to 2007, a pretty incredible year for indie rock, particular for those bands hailing from Canada. I’d been pretty proud of the music coming out of my home country for the previous couple of years already. My favourite magazine in those days, Under the Radar, had done a special issue focusing on Canadian indie rock in 2005. The Polaris Prize, the Canadian equivalent to Britain’s Mercury Prize, was established in 2006, the inaugural prize won by Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy). And pretty much every Canadian indie band, whether from Montreal, Toronto, or the Vancouver area, was exploding on the scene. So you shouldn’t be too surprised to see that this list will feature a sampling of these talented Canadians.

To sum up, starting from today and continuing over the next five weeks, I will honour the Throwback Thursday theme/meme (#tbt) with a series on my favourite albums from 2007. Enjoy.


#10 The Besnard Lakes “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse”

I feel like it was the resurrected MuchMusic alternative show, “The Wedge”, that introduced me to The Besnard Lakes in 2007 with the video for “Agent 13” off this, their second record. “The Besnard Lakes are the dark horse” is eight beautiful and dreamily atmospheric arrangements that meander at their own pace and might dissipate into the ether altogether it weren’t all held together with those Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. This was the album that really put the Montreal-based sextet, led by husband and wife Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, on the map.

Gateway tune: Devastation


#9 Okkervil River “The stage names”

Like many other people (in my head, anyways), “The stage names” was my introduction to the Austin, Texas-based indie rock band led by Will Sheff. What initially drew me to the album and keeps me coming back is that it has all the traditional Americana elements and instruments but plays with song structure and lyrics in a very different way. Will Sheff sings with a voice that belongs more in the post-punk era (think Gordon Gano or David Byrne), telling intricate stories in a very literate way, overtop a cacophony of Hammond organs, xylophones, pedal steels, woodblocks, and mandolins.

Gateway tune: Our life is not a movie or maybe


#8 Handsome Furs “Plague park”

Handsome Furs was Dan Boeckner’s (also of Wolf Parade, Divine Fits, and Operators) side project that he formed in 2005 with his then wife, Canadian poet Alexei Perry. Named after a park built overtop a mass grave for plague victims in Finland in the 1700s, “Plague Park” was the first of three albums the Montreal-based duo would release before dissolving (and separating) in 2012. Of the three, it is the most guitar heavy but it is characteristic for the heavy bass, raucous synths, and of course, Boeckner’s raw Springsteen-like vocals.

Gateway tune: Dumb animals


#7 Cuff The Duke “Sidelines of the city”

For their third record, Oshawa, Ontario’s Cuff The Duke rotated their lineup some and expanded their sound from their alternative country roots to include a bit of blues and psych rock. Wayne Petti, the band’s driving force doesn’t eschew everything that worked for the band in the past, however, staying with Paul Aucoin for the album’s production and writing some quality, quality lyrics. I’m especially fond of Oshawa love letter, “Rossland square”, because the city is incidentally the town where I was also born. But that’s not the only reason I’m fond of the album. Listen to the track below for more firepower.

Gateway tune: If I live or if I die


#6 Arcade Fire “Neon bible”

To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed with this album when I first heard it. But how could I not with the insane expectations I found myself heaping upon it after the brilliance of the Montreal-based indie rock collective’s debut album, “Funeral”. Nonetheless, “Neon bible” grew on me over the years. For the sophomore album, the group added Ottawa’s Jeremy Gara on drums and included violinist Sara Neufeld as a full time member. Frontman Win Butler has stated that he had wanted a stripped down sound for the album but the big themes of televangelism and religion begged for equally big instrumentation so the layers and the final sound ended up being immense.

Gateway tune: No cars go


For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.

100 best covers: #93 Billy Bragg with Natalie Merchant and Wilco “Way over yonder in the minor key”

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As I understand it, the story goes something like this. Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, approached Britain’s modern equivalent, Billy Bragg, after seeing him perform at a Woody Guthrie tribute concert with the proposition of bringing some of her father’s unrecorded compositions to life. Bragg agreed, but not before enlisting the help of American indie folk/rock group, Wilco. The extraordinary and perhaps a bit surprising results were recorded and released as 1998’s Grammy-nominated album, “Mermaid avenue”. In fact, it was so successful that a second volume was released two years later, followed by a three volume box set that included outtakes in 2012.

This song, “Way over yonder in the minor key”, is a bit unique on this list of covers series in that we don’t have an original recording to which to compare it. Apparently, when Woody Guthrie died, he left behind manuscripts containing the lyrics to over a thousand songs but because he never read or wrote music, we’ll never know for sure how these were really meant to sound. Yet without a solid guide, I think Billy Bragg has done a fine job here, keeping to Guthrie’s spirit but adding his own personal touch. It’s simply strummed on his acoustic guitar and sung in his inimitable and working class accented vocals. He’s enlisted Wilco’s Jay Bennet to lay down a lovely Hammond B-3 backbone, some Eliza McCarthy fiddles, and of course, Natalie Merchant’s lovely backing vocal track.

“Way over yonder” is one of the lesser politically-charged of Guthrie’s tunes and is not overtly making social commentary but perhaps is more personal. It’s light and jocular, calling to mind a simpler time. Childhood. And all of those childhood teasing games.

“She said it’s hard for me to see
How one little boy got so ugly
Yes, my luttle girly, that might be
But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me”

The cover:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.