Tony Bennett looks at the year in album reviews
Ah, the end of the year. A time when a music writer can get away with writing about stuff they've already written about, but in a slightly different way. That's right: this here is one o' them year-end best-ofs.
The year 2018 probably wasn't any more notable than any other year, musically, but like every other year, there were high highs and low lows. Certainly, there were times when this writer despaired while listening to yet another overproduced regional act shooting for airplay on The Current. Other times, someone made something remarkable in an unassuming way, and it was glorious. Here's a list of the top five local and non-local albums that I covered in this column during 2018.
Ingeborg von Agassiz — "O Giver of Dreams"
It's rare that a singer emerges so fully-formed. "O Giver" is a debut album that sounds like an established artist's fifth record, not a first voyage. Von Agassiz is skilled in performance and production, but the songs are where it's at. Vulgar yet childlike all at once, the album is like a catchy Edward Gorey drawing. Truly great stuff.
Nat Harvie — "Nat Harvie's Broken Record"
While some of it was a bit mannered, much of Nat Harvie's LP is comprised of melodic indie rock with dramatic, unexpected flourishes that are fully earned and demonstrate a lot of skill. Harvie has room to grow as an artist, but this is a confident, patient statement.
Dirty Horse — "Dirty Horse"
The first release by Dirty Horse in several years is a gutsy slab of freedom rock that features jammers like "Documents," in which the group creates a kind of lumberjack funk, and "Radio," a track that Built to Spill wouldn't kick out of bed.
Emily Haavik & the 35s — "Ease Back"
It's not easy to sound commercial without crossing the line into crassness, oftentimes, but Emily Haavik and her band make it happen on "Ease Back." This is a record that could be played on modern country radio or after some Neko Case on NPR without seeming weird next to either.
Low — "Double Negative"
You wouldn't call this record "enjoyable" like you would, say, a Beach Boys record, but the latest from the Duluth-based indie legends is admirable due to its total commitment to making Low sound like they're trapped in a glitch-ridden apocalypse of distortion and compression. Gutsy move.
Ty Segall — "Freedom's Goblin"
So few people know how to rock, anymore. Ty Segall does, and he does it with regularity. His 2018 side projects were good, but his main record was real good, as per usual. Metal, grunge, pop, punk — it's all there, and it's glorious.
Earthless — "Black Heaven"
One of the best rhythm sections in all of rock, and one of the best guitar heroes around on top of it. The addition of six-stringer Isaiah Mitchell's vocals to most of this record's tracks could've been a mistake, but this might be their best effort yet. And the live album ("From the West") that came from this tour is lava-hot.
Screaming Females — "All at Once"
The New Jersey band's seventh record is another winner, and more evidence that Marissa Paternoster should be way more famous. Great songs, great singing, great playing. The only thing this band did wrong was to not build a time machine and travel to 1992, where they would easily go platinum upon arrival.
Windhand — "Eternal Return"
The worst thing about so many heavy bands is that they think they need to constantly be outhouse-grunting to sound hard. The silky vocals of Dorthia Cottrell puts the lie to that. The latest from the doom-grungers is often radio-catchy, but it never forgets to bring the thunder.
Various Artists — Various Reissues
This year, there were archival releases from Metallica, The Kinks, The Beatles, Guns N' Roses, Bob Dylan, Liz Phair, Tom Petty, Jimi Hendrix and many more. It's a cash cow, sure, but illuminating demos and working mixes and live tracks from some of music's all-timers are always welcome.