Best albums of 2018: #1 The Decemberists “I’ll be your girl”

After The Decemberists’ relatively recent hiatus from recording and touring, I found myself very surprised to learn in January of this year that a new album was forthcoming so soon after their seventh release. Indeed, it had felt like “What a terrible world, what a beautiful world” had just been released, when in fact it was actually three years before. My initial miscalculation was likely because I had just seen the group the previous summer and they were still out supporting that previous album. So yeah, surprised I was but it was even greater when I heard the first single, “Severed”.

Much has been made in the press and otherwise about the Portland-based indie folk group’s change in sound on their latest, this album, “I’ll be your girl”. Frontman Colin Meloy, himself, has admitted that they drew from their teenaged crushes on Depeche Mode and New Order when they decided to add synthesizers to their already large arsenal of instrumentation for this album. Indeed, at first listen, it is almost jarring to a long time listener but the more you listen, the more you realize that this is still the Decemberists you know and love. And really, the band has never shied from experimentation and dabblings in different styles and genres. They’ve done the sea shanties, twee and indie pop, prog rock, and run the folk gamut from American to British to Eastern European traditions. Synth pop à la Decemberists is the welcome and next logical progression, no? Just nod yes.

The Decemberists are also known for their songwriting, especially the clever lyrics by Colin Meloy, and this is still very much a touchstone of this album. He’s been less esoteric and more accessible on recent works and here, he continues the trend, though there are still a few moments that will please longtime fans and cause casual listeners to scratch their heads. What I love about this album, though, like a few others we’ve already seen on this list, is that our songwriter addresses the madness that seems to be increasing around him but chooses to face it with positivity rather than hatred and anger. It’s an album that makes me happy whenever I put it on and I think that’s a great reason for it to be considered the best album of the year.

Have a listen to the three selections below and perhaps they will make you happy as well. However, if cheeriness is not the main quality by which you choose your favourite album of the year, I’d love to hear what you’ve got at the top of your list in the Comments section after the post.


“Sucker’s prayer”: This first pick is actually an exception to the upbeat rule of the rest of the album. I mean, really, just listen to the chorus: “I’ve been so long lonely and it’s getting me down. I wanna throw my body in the river and drown.” It’s so over the top that we know this can’t possibly by Colin Meloy singing autobiographically. It’s also thematically prototypical to what we used to imagine Country music to be, down in the dumps where nothing can go right. And the music is right there with it, downtrodden blues buried deep within Americana piano tinkles and sustained organ. And that aforementioned chorus begs to be sung along with, come on in, have a drink, cry a little, and join us in prayer.

“Severed”: As I mentioned above, this one here was the first single and teaser we got from this new album and what a shock it was to some. I admit myself to playing it and still being surprised even after hearing the whisperings on the internet. My wife Victoria was sitting across the living room on her tablet and asked “Is that The Decemberists?!”. I could only nod and play it again. The synthesizers set the tone right from the start and throw you off the scent but once you find it again, you definitely remember why you love this band. It’s a song that rocks. It roars along like a black car on an old deserted road, its bright lights laying down the path on its suicide mission.

“Once in my life”: This final selection was the second single released off the album and also its opener. It begins with Meloy singing solo to the strum of his guitar, making a plea to universe not unlike that of Morrissey in a certain Smiths classic. Yet this is The Decemberists and things pick up from there, the bass slides in, backing vocals join in, instruments are added, including the surprising but welcome synthesizers, and the piece becomes joyful. The accompanying video is one that continues the theme of hope and it was while reading Colin Meloy’s statement upon it that I learned his son Hank is autistic. In his words: “When I’m out in public with Hank, I’m acutely aware of the world’s attachment to social and behavioral norms; in these situations, Hank’s otherness can suddenly be put in stark relief. Through the lens of Jacob’s [the video”s protagonist] joyful and defiant movement in Autumn’s video, we see a man shrugging off the constraints of an unaccommodating and judgmental world and truly reveling in his body and mind.” Yep. I need say no more.


In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. David Byrne “American utopia”
9. James “Living in extraordinary times”
8. The Limiñanas “Shadow people”
7. The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”
6. Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”
5. Middle Kids “Lost friends”
4. Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”
3. Nap Eyes “I’m bad now”
2. Frank Turner “Be more kind”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2018: #2 Frank Turner “Be more kind”

I’ve been something of a Frank Turner fan for so long that I can no longer remember when or how it started. There’s a bunch of likely sources but there’s no way I could tell you for sure. And yet, to be honest, up to this point, it’s mostly just a bunch of his songs that have caught my fancy, shiny gems scattered across a slew of his albums. This one here is the first of his albums that I’ve loved through and through.

Frank Turner cut his teeth in a few bands, most notably post-hardcore band Million Dead, before striking out in his own in 2005. Almost from the beginning, he has been backed up on the road and in the studio by The Sleeping Souls, made up of members of Dive Dive, whom Turner had befriended while out on tour. He has become known as a folk punk singer/songwriter, whose lyrics are informed, intelligent, often socio-political in nature, and so much fun to sing or shout along with. I’ve likened him to a younger Billy Bragg and the similarities go beyond those already mentioned and the English accent that he refuses to let go of while singing. He is also very passionate, usually angry sounding, which gives a bit more of an edge than Bragg, not that this is better or worse.

“Be more kind” is Frank Turner’s seventh studio long player and marks a bit of a shift for him. The title and really, the ethos for album was inspired by a line in the poem “Leçons des Ténèbres” by Clive James, which suggests that poet found out too late that he should’ve been more kind. As soon as I read about this, I searched out the poem myself because it’s an idea that I love. That of kindness in the face of all this madness we are facing. And though, Turner hesitates to call the album a political one, I would say it would almost be impossible for someone like him not to write about what he sees happening, especially as his own personal life has moved towards happiness.

I’m doing something a little different for my three picks for you and this album. Rather than describe the sound or lyrical content of the songs, I’m going to provide a chunk of lyric for each. Because primarily, I try to keep politics out of this blog (though it’s hard with artists like this) and secondly, I couldn’t possible say it better than Frank. Enjoy…

…And yeah… be more kind.


“1933”: “If I was of the greatest generation, I’d be pissed. Surveying the world that I built slipping back into this, I’d be screaming at my grandkids: ‘We already did this’. Be suspicious of simple answers. That shit’s for fascists and maybe teenagers. You can’t fix the world if all you have is a hammer. The first time it was a tragedy. The second time is a farce. Outside it’s 1933 so I’m hitting the bar.”

“Make America great again”: “Well I know I’m just an ignorant Englishman but I’d like to make America great again. So if you’ll forgive my accent and the cheek of it, here’s some suggestions from the special relationship. Let’s make America great again by making racists ashamed again. Let’s make compassion in fashion again. Let’s make America great again.”

“Be more kind”: “History’s been leaning on me lately. I can feel the future breathing down my neck. And all the things I thought were true when I was young, and you were too, turned out to be broken and I don’t know what comes next. In a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind, be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.”


Check back next Friday for album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. David Byrne “American utopia”
9. James “Living in extraordinary times”
8. The Limiñanas “Shadow people”
7. The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”
6. Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”
5. Middle Kids “Lost friends”
4. Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”
3. Nap Eyes “I’m bad now”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2018: #3 Nap Eyes “I’m bad now”

Nap Eyes are a Canadian indie rock quartet led by Nigel Chapman. All four members originally hail from Halifax, Nova Scotia, but only Chapman remains there. The other three, Brad Loughead, Josh Salter, and Seamus Dalton, have all relocated to Montreal, which one might think would cause problems with recording new material. However, I’m learning that it’s actually not an uncommon situation these days with technology being what it is: bands don’t always have to be in the same room to record a great and cohesive album together.

But I digress.

I came across Nap Eyes a couple of years ago with their sophomore album, “Thought rock fish scale”, and happily, got to see them perform live for free at the Ottawa Dragonboat festival the same year. Their sound appealed to me right away. It’s lazy-sounding slacker rock but nowhere near the same vibe as Kurt Vile or fellow Canadian, Mac DeMarco, neither of which particularly appeal to me in the same sense. No. These guys remind me of an underrated 90s dream pop band called Luna but also very much of The Velvet Underground, particularly if “Sunday morning” had been the template from which all their catalogue was cut. It’s mellow but it rocks, and absolutely, Nigel Chapman’s conversational singing tone evokes those of Lou Reed and Dean Wareham. His lyrics are weird, seemingly stream of consciousness monologues, rife with both the mystical and the mundane, the loose frays and discomfiture not at all hinting at the career of his other life as biochemist. Yeah, they’re an interesting group.

“I’m bad now” is the group’s third long player and is seen in some circles as the final part in an unofficial trilogy. On this outing, they pick things up a bit. At moments, it’s quite upbeat in pace but I still wouldn’t call these songs rockers in the traditional sense. Sometimes they plod along and sometimes they burn slowly, hinting at a build that never quite explodes, and sometimes they just hum and tear, thrilling in the journey rather than the destination.

Like its two predecessors, “I’m bad now” works as a complete album, bucking the current trend towards singles. All eleven songs work just as well as standalone pieces as they do as part of the whole. So though it was a tough task, I have separated out three picks for you to sample. Enjoy.


“Follow me down”: This here’s a song about going for a walk and it carries on with a cheerful gait, the tap-tap on the drum rim, the bopping bass line, and the gentle strum on the guitar. It has the feel of old style folk music but with a wash of reverb underpinning it all. And Chapman is inviting us to join him on his early morning stroll, early to try to beat noise, physical and otherwise, that comes with all the people. But no matter, he’s got his earphones in: “Classical Indian ragga twenty minutes long. Then I listened to old American folk song. A little bit shorter, still a lot going on.” Keep up with him, please, he’s a got a good pace this morning.

“Dull me line”: “Dull me line, running abandoned race tracks in my mind. Dull me heart, heavy with bored and lazy disappointment art.” The chorus line, which in a bigger, stadium friendly band might incite a raucous sing-along, was Chapman both being frustrated with writer’s block and being easily distracted. The guitars are jangling and shimmering and often give way to messy, Velvet Underground-like mini-jams throughout the song. It’s a great tune to bop along to. Yeah, just close your eyes and ride the waves. Yeah, man.

“Roses”: Here’s an example of Nap Eyes in an upbeat, uptempo moment. It’s got a driving beat and roaring guitars and feels like it’s going to be much longer than its three plus minutes. It just has that feel, like you’re in for the long haul and you don’t mind at all, the rhythm is nice but Chapman doesn’t give it to you. Instead, he gives you more of his honest and insecure and curious thoughts in the form of lyrics. “Somebody sent you roses. Now what do you do with them? You’ve got no reason to trim them. No nice place to throw them. Because it doesn’t seem right to throw them away. Yet you can’t very well send them back the other way.” Hilarious and poignant and so much why I love this band.


Check back next Friday for album #2. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. David Byrne “American utopia”
9. James “Living in extraordinary times”
8. The Limiñanas “Shadow people”
7. The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”
6. Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”
5. Middle Kids “Lost friends”
4. Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.