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.

Vinyl love: Nap Eyes “I’m bad now”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Nap Eyes
Album Title: I’m bad now
Year released: 2018
Details: Pink vinyl, Limited edition

The skinny: The third album by the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based quartet finds them deeply entrenched and comfortable in their sound and sensibility. I know it’s lazy to compare them to Velvet Underground but that’s just how I’m feeling, listening to their laid-back but intense meanderings. These guys are easily one of my favourite Canadian acts right now.

Standout track: “Roses”

100 best covers: #90 Rufus Wainwright “Across the universe”

<< #91    |    #89 >>

It feels like forever since I’ve done one of these 100 best covers posts. In fact, I had to look back in my archives to see how long ago it actually was and then, got caught up in listening to Dum Dum Girl’s cover of “There is a light that never goes out”, all over again. So we go from The Smiths to The Beatles, two iconic British bands from very different eras and just over two months in between.

“Across the universe” was a John Lennon composition, consisting of some of his very favourite lyrics. Interesting, then, that it was shelved for so long and finally appeared first on a charity compilation album and then, on “Let it be”, mostly because of the footage of it caught for the documentary film of the same name. There are a few versions of the song floating around out there, one with singing bird sound effects bookending the music and of course, the more popular one remixed by Phil Spector.

Rufus Wainwright is Canadian singer/songwriter who is the offspring of American folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and Canadian folk singer Kate McGarrigle and the older brother of Martha Wainwright. His cover of “Across the universe” came about after the release of his second album, 2001’s “Poses”, and he was approached by Sean Penn to record a version of the Beatles song for his film, “I am Sam”. The initial plan was to use the original Beatles versions for the film and its soundtrack but the filmmakers were unable to obtain the rights for all the songs. Apparently though, the filming had been done using the originals already so the covers had to be recorded using the same time signatures.

Rufus Wainwright’s cover may be in the same time signature but his version is all him. Where The Beatles’ original is all psychedelic, spiritual, and soaring over a technicolor world, using all the studio bells and whistles, Wainwright’s is a mostly stripped down affair. It’s guitar layered on guitar and his vocal tracks layered upon each other. And those Wainwright vocals are the key, playing somewhere between opera, show tune, and glam rock, taking on a life of their own and bringing with them the inherent sadness of the song. Quite beautiful really.

The cover:

The original:

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