I’ve gotten that reaction from a lot of people when I tell them that Jars of Clay is my all-time favorite band, or when they notice me wearing one of the old, raggedy shirts I bought at one of their concerts ages ago. I try to take it in stride, because to most of the world, the band is considered a one-hit wonder. (Heck, there’s even a YouTube show about one-hit wonders that I got into because they did an episode on the band’s mid-90s crossover hit “Flood”.) Even to folks who were super into Christian rock and came of age around the same time I did, who are more familiar with the band’s work than just the one song, they tend to like the band’s first album and not really know or care about much of their work after that point. It gets difficult to explain to folks that: (a) Yes, they still make music after all these years, (b) Yes, they’re all still Christians, (c) No, they never had another mainstream hit and they were probably better off not angling for one, and (d) They’ve massively improved as artists since that already excellent first album.
This is the list I look forward to writing the most each year, and yet that I seem to always agonize over until New Year’s Eve arrives and I have to click the “Publish” button and freeze these opinions in time. Coming up with a good, solid list of album recommendations at the end of every year seems to be a harder and harder task as time goes by, owing to a lot of artists seeming to lose interest in the album format, perhaps putting out excellent singles or EPs, but with the full-length LP becoming almost an afterthought. Even some of the top entries here were records I got to know at least half of as pre-release singles, or as a collection of EPs, before the full listening experience was made available, and thus I regard them more as strong compilations of songs from the latest phase of an artist’s career rather than as cohesive “albums” in the traditional sense. Still, a few holdouts are doing great things with the LP format, making a case for why it’s worth roughly 40 to 60 minutes of a listener’s time to take in a collection of songs in the order presented. I think that’s an art form that is still worth pursuing, even if the state of the music industry makes it an uphill battle to keep doing so.
It feels like this year brought along a massive hodgepodge of acoustic remake EPs (and some full LPs), remix projects, live albums, etc. from artists whose studio work I tend to enjoy. A lot of it felt hastily rushed out the door in order to generate more streaming revenue, to be honest. But these few holdouts containing all original material (or covers of a single artist, in one case) were of such strong quality that I found myself wishing each one could be expanded into an album in its own right. (Or in one instance, wishing it could have actually been part of the album it was released as a prelude to.) Here are the EPs that I enjoyed the most in 2018, as well as a pair of actual full-length albums from 2017 that I didn’t get around to in time.
Here are the albums that I had the toughest time making it all the way through in 2018. At the top of the list are the merely mediocre records that I almost wanted to rescue from the “dishonorable” pile, but that just didn’t have enough good to outweigh the bad. As you get further down, the list gets more and more abysmal, to the point where I can’t even come up with a track highlight to make a case for why it’s not all bad.
First on my to-do list as the year comes to a close is to list the individual songs that inspired and entertained me the most in 2018. Some of these may have come out in 2017, or in a few extreme cases, as singles in 2016 that didn’t make it onto an actual album release until more recently. Either way, it was all new to me this year, or else I heard it in late 2017 and I had a belated reaction to it. Explanations and video/audio links are given for the Top 30 – for the rest, if you’re curious, just click the review links where provided to learn more.
As always, many of these songs (limit one per artist) are collected in my 2018 in a Nutshell playlist over on Spotify.
Out of the increasingly eclectic list of albums that makes its way into my Spotify playlists (and eventually my physical collection, wherever possible), here’s the stuff that I enjoyed the most in 2017, and that I would absolutely recommend, with no reservations, to anyone whose favorite type of music can best be described as “stuff that challenges me in some way but that is always super catchy”. (Is that not a musical genre? it should be.)
As always, I wanted to give a mention to the music I enjoyed this year that didn’t fit the traditional “album” format, or else that was released in 2016 and I didn’t catch up to it until this year. Either way, none of it’s eligible for my Top 20 list, but all of it is definitely worth checking out if anything I have to say here piques your interest.