Obsessive Year-End List Fest 2018: Wait, That’s Not an Album! (and Last Year’s Leftovers)

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.

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Spoon – Hot Thoughts: TheyfinallytalkedmeintolisteningtoSpoon

Artist: Spoon
Album: Hot Thoughts
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: The band’s ninth album is a kaleidoscope of colorful sounds befitting its cover art. I love how the urgent, raspy vocals of Britt Daniel collide with the inventive percussion grooves, the jangly guitars and layered keyboard sounds, and the occasional atmospheric bits as well. They’ve got a streamlined indie pop aesthetic that keeps the songs mostly concise and flowing from one into the other with laser-guided accuracy, but they also leave space for the occasional experimental or “jam band”-type indulgence, which works out a lot better than it probably sounds like it should. It’s hard to believe it took me THIS long to get into these guys.

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Derek Webb – Fingers Crossed: The devil, too, deserves some boundaries

Artist: Derek Webb
Album: Fingers Crossed
Year: 2017
Grade: C+

In Brief: Lyrically, Fingers Crossed is a harrowing tale of a man’s guilt, anguish, and possible loss of faith in the messy aftermath of an extramarital affair. Musically, it’s mostly a low-key mixture of acoustic coffeehouse-type material and electronica. 13 tracks and over an hour of music in this vein can be an incredibly difficult listen for both reasons, but I have to admit that a few of the confessions and insights offered here are darkly fascinating.

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Belle & Sebastian – How to Solve Our Human Problems: We were beautiful before we got wise.

Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Album: How to Solve Our Human Problems
Year: 2017/2018
Grade: B+

In Brief: Spreading this collection of songs over three separately released EPs made it a little easier to digest this wealth of new material, but it also gives the impression that there was no real master plan for most of it to fit together cohesively. It’s always great to see Belle & Sebastian expanding their musical horizons, and there honestly isn’t a weak track in the bunch. But the collection lacks a central sense of identity, which makes me wonder whether the band is done with traditional “album releases” and would rather just put out music in a more “stream-of-consciousness” fashion in the future.

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Paramore – After Laughter: Better After Than Never.

Artist: Paramore
Album: After Laughter
Year: 2017
Grade: B+

In Brief: As one of the many rock bands giving themselves a “pop makeover” these days, Paramore does a good job of keeping the music band-oriented and making the lyrics contrast quite sharply with the bouncy music. This is an album that cleverly uses the sugar rush to make the sour parts sting even more. Whether it could be – or should be – a permanent shift in style for the band remains to be seen.

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St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION: A spoonful of sugar helps the pills go down.

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Artist: St. Vincent
Album: MASSEDUCTION
Year: 2017
Grade: B

In Brief: In between the startling moments and the serene ones, there’s a really idiosyncratic pop record eager to come out and play. It’s taken me a few albums, but I’m finally starting to warm up to Annie Clark’s off-kilter mix of the trashy and the transcendent.

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Evanescence – Synthesis: I gave up on you, but I never forgot you.

Artist: Evanescence
Album: Synthesis
Year: 2017
Grade: B-

In Brief: These classical/electronic reworkings of old Evanescence songs work better than expected, for the most part. At times the song selection is lackluster, or else the arrangements aren’t quite ambitious enough to set them apart from the originals in memorable ways. But it was clearly a labor of love for Amy Lee, and I get the sense that perhaps for the first time, we’re hearing some of these songs as she had once envisioned them in her mind.

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